After Honduras in 2009, drained more than ever by the consequences of the coup d’état on the freedom to inform, the year’s most impressive changes concern three other Central American countries. Christian Poveda’s murder on 2 September 2009, at the beginning of the period considered, should logically have hurled El Salvador into the bottom of the Index. Yet the opposite occurred because of efforts undertaken and results obtained by Mauricio Funes’ government against impunity in this case. Even if the media (particularly those of the community) are not safe from threats, the absence of any aggression or serious acts of censorship are rocketing this reputedly dangerous country into an enviable position. A positive trend is also emerging in Guatemala, where results included no one killed, unlike in preceding years.
Panama has taken an opposite direction, in an atmosphere growing increasingly tense between the media and the authorities. Three serious episodes explain this sudden drop. First, the detention – at the end of June and for nineteen days – of retired journalist Carlos Nuñez, on grounds of a conviction for “defamation and “insult” which happened twelve years earlier and of which he had not even been aware. Next, the harsh treatments inflicted in his cell on a photographer arrested because of a harmless negative. Lastly, the threats, accompanied by an expulsion procedure, which were imposed on Spanish journalist Paco Gómez Nadal, a critical columnist and defender of indigenous rights. During this time, neighbouring Costa Rica was still holding its position among the highest-ranked Latin American countries. Further to the north, the United States (50 states of the union) and Canada still occupy the continent’s best positions, but they lag behind some twenty other countries. The initial results of the Obama administration in terms of access to information are disappointing.
Honduras brings up the rear in Central America, with a human track record comparable to that of Mexico, which is nonetheless slightly ahead of it, but followed, heading southward in the Index, by Colombia, where havoc caused by the country’s Administrative Department of Security (DAS) was accompanied by two murders of journalists (one of which involved a confirmed work-related motive). The situation is still tense in the Dominican Republic, where it is not healthy to be involved in corruption or drug trafficking, but it is becoming critical again in the Andean countries. Bolivia’s and Ecuador’s rankings have lost ground because of the violent acts, intimidations and blocked activities fostered by a pervasive climate of media-related political polarisation. The situation is affecting the state-owned, as well as privately owned, media. Peru has once again dropped some places because it still has not only a high incidence of assaults, but also of censorships ordered by high-ranking officials, and of abuses of process against the media. The same factors explain Venezuela’s new plunge, where the regime’s monopoly of the audiovisual terrestrial broadcast network and the excessive use of lengthy presidential speeches leaves little room for pluralism.
Cuba gained several places after the wave of dissident releases – notably the “Black Springtime” of March 2003 – which began in July 2010. So far, five journalists remain imprisoned in the continent’s only state which does not recognise any independent media. If the regime has made some concessions on behalf of its political prisoners in exchange for forced exile, it still has not made any with regard to public freedoms.
Persistent problems in the South
The other countries share some persistent problems – an over-concentration of media, economic disparities, local tensions, excessive number of legal proceedings, media coverage restrictions. Brazil can now be added to the countries with improved rankings already observed in the South Cone (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay). The Latin American giant owes its better position to a decline in incidents of serious violence – which had previously been undermining certain regions – and to some pledges to fight against impunity in certain affairs. It also owes its improved ranking to favourable legislative changes in matters relating to access of information and editorial freedom, such as the reaffirmation of the right to caricaturise in an election period. Lastly, Brazil is one of the world’s most active Internet communities. The situation there would be better still if preventive censorship measures were not being imposed on certain media outlets.