Knight Center
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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Governments increasingly use laws, lawsuits to restrict press freedom, say experts at 10th Austin Forum




Latin American journalists increasingly are facing legal threats to freedom of expression, according to experts on the panel "The Legal Threats to Press Freedom: From the Old Criminal Defamation Laws to the Newest Attempts to Regulate the Internet," during the 10th annual Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Open Society Fondations, held May 20-22 in Austin, Texas.

César Ricaurte, director of the Ecuadoran organization Fundamedios, said that governments more and more are using legal techniques to undermine journalism in the region.

Besides criminalization of defamation, libel, and insult laws that threaten freedom of expression, Latin American governments also are using lawsuits. For example, more than 20 lawsuits against Ecuadoran media outlets and journalists have prompted the media to self-censor out of fear that local or national authorities will feel offended and go after journalists with costly lawsuits and fines.

Ricaurte also said that national security laws are used to censor information or prohibit access to public information, adding that the region has experiences a proliferation of laws related to the social responsibility of journalists. Such laws are an attempt to regulate the press according to supposed moral principles but the end result amounts to nothing more than censorship and restriction of press freedom. "It's ethics imposed by the government," Ricaurte said.

As far as online freedom of information, ambiguous laws and regulations allow Internet providers to censor content, said Eduardo Bertoni, director of the Center for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE in Spanish) in Argentina.

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that lawsuits against journalists set a bad precedent and represent a step backward for freedom of expression on the continent.

This year's Austin Forum, May 20-22 in Austin, Texas, is themed "Safety and Protection for Journalists, Bloggers, and Citizen Journalists," and is organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Latin America and Media programs of the Open Society Foundations. More than just an annual conference, the Austin Forum is a network of organizations that focus on media development and training in Latin America and the Caribbean. Previous Forums have focused on such topics as Media Coverage of Migration in the Americas and Coverage of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.



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