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US Press Group Says Fear, Intimidation Silencing Some Latin American Media


A report from a U.S.-based press freedom group says self-censorship is growing among journalists in parts of Latin America. Threats and intimidation are silencing many Latin American journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says self-censorship is not a new problem in Latin America. But what has changed, is that it has become so widespread. CPJ says fewer journalists are now willing to take personal risks to report on sensitive subjects, such as human rights, drug trafficking, organized crime and corruption.

CPJ Americas Coordinator, Carlos Lauría, says in Columbia, reporters censor themselves because of fear of reprisal from all sides in the civil war - rebels, the army and pro-government paramilitaries. "The reality is that in the last decade almost 30 journalists have been killed for their work in Colombia, and the overburdened justice system has been incapable of solving any of these murders, creating a climate of impunity which finally leaves the media open to attacks," he said.

Mexico is another country where the press group says self-censorship is rampant because of the physical dangers to journalists.

Northern Mexico is especially dangerous for investigative journalists reporting about smuggling and drug trafficking. Lauría says that region has become one of the most dangerous areas for journalists in Latin America. "More journalists have been killed in Mexico than in any other Latin American country in the last few years," he said.

In Venezuela, the challenge to reporters is legal rather than physical. In late 2004, President Hugo Chavez signed into law a measure that CPJ says severely limits freedom of expression. At the same time, the congress approved amendments to the penal code imposing harsher penalties for violators. "In order to comply with this law on social responsibility in radio and television, many media outlets have had to alter their programming, fearing that if they don't do it they will be sanctioned," he said.

Lauría said that since this law was enacted, television stations in Venezuela have dropped half of their opinion programs. "The reality is that these opinion programs are the ones that criticize President Hugo Chavez, so some say this is an example of how restrictive this law that was passed by the Venezuelan government is," he said.

Elsewhere, CPJ found that Cuba is the only country in Latin America that jails journalists for doing their jobs. "Cuba, unfortunately, remained one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, second only to China," he said.

Two journalists were imprisoned last year in Cuba, joining 22 others CPJ says have been jailed since a crackdown on the press began in March 2003.

CPJ says fewer journalists were killed last year in Latin America, but the press group attributed this decline to media self-censorship.

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