SANTIAGO – Freedom of speech is an adequate benchmark to measure the quality of democracy in Latin America, according to newspaper editors and speakers who participated in the general assembly of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in the Chilean capital.
The model of democracy in the light of freedom of expression was the main theme of Sunday’s IAPA annual meeting, which also analyzed work by the freedom of expression rapporteur of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Reports were presented by each member country of the organization which groups more than 1,300 newspapers and magazines of the Western Hemisphere.
The reports showed a generalized widespread decline in freedom of expression, especially in Paraguay, Honduras and Mexico, with eight journalists killed within six months.
The quality of existing democracy in some of the Latin American nations was questioned during one of the panel discussions with speakers saying that the level of freedom of expression and the press is proportional to the degree of democracy in the country.
Media representatives said they doubted that some of the democratically-elected governments in the region respected the press exercising freedom of expression.
“There is a common sentiment that there are elections, but not all political regimes adhere to the democratic system,” said Joaquin Morales, of the Gaceta de Tucuman newspaper in Argentina.
His opinion was echoed by Chilean Television Council member, Genaro Arriagada, who argued that there was a setback in the Latin American democracies which affects the rule of law.
“It is not healthy for a country to have two or three large conglomerates controlling all media. Society needs a multiplicity of media,” he said.
Human Rights Watch spokesperson Jose Miguel Vivanco said that freedom of expression had suffered increasing setbacks in the last few years in Latin America.
“Freedom of expression is not only to be able to say what one thinks, give and receive information, but also not to have to face economic, physical or legal consequences for doing so,” Vivanco said.
Vivanco was especially concerned about the situation in Venezuela, where mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government have resulted in brutal repression and attacks on press and reporters.