The Inter American Press Association, an organization of more than 1,300 newspapers from the United States, Latin America and
Canada, will hold its fall general assembly in Salt Lake City this week.Some 300 members are expected to attend.
The group, which acts as a watchdog against government violations of press freedom in the hemisphere, will spend most of the week compiling its semiannual country-by-country status report.
But also on the agenda will be an investigation into news reports that two member newspapers accepted U.S. government money - possibly in violation of IAPA's charter.
It has been reported that La Prensa, of Managua, Nicaragua, and La Epoca, of Santiago, Chile, accepted money from the National Endowment for Democracy, a private agency funded by Congress to promote democratic activities abroad. La Prensa is the only opposition newspaper in Sandinista-controlled Nicaragua, and La Epoca is a leading opponent of Chile's Pinochet government.
IAPA's schedule this week will also include a speech on Latin American issues Tuesday by U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, and a panel discussion on hemispheric drug problems, talks by Bush and Dukakis campaign representatives and lunch with Robert Redford on Wednesday.
This year's general assembly is hosted by Wm. James Mortimer, Deseret News publisher; Jerry O'Brien, Salt Lake Tribune publisher; Gary Neeleman, director of Western marketing, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post Syndicate; Bill Beecham, Utah-Idaho chief of bureau, Associated Press; and Ralph Wakley, Utah state editor, United Press International.
IAPA President Ignacio E. Lozano Jr. said the initial discussion of the allegations concerning La Prensa and La Epoca will take place in a closed session. "We plan to investigate it quietly" and, if it's determined that action should be taken, bring it to the board of directors, which meets in public.
Lozano said he appointed an ad hoc committee this summer to look into the matter after reading the allegations against La Prensa in the July-August issue of Columbia Journalism Review and those concerning La Epoca in newspaper accounts earlier in the summer.
He said he imagines that if IAPA had been aware of earlier reports, it would have acted sooner. Others have known at least about La Prensa, if IAPA has not. The funding of the Nicaraguan paper by NED was reported in the Washington Post and other publications in early 1986.
Lozano said it is much too early to talk of what, if any, action might be taken, but IAPA bylaws allow the board of directors to suspend or expel a member found to have violated the group's charter.
Any action against La Prensa would be a dramatic reversal of the association's longtime support of the paper. As far back as the 1950s, IAPA went to bat for La Prensa when its publisher at the time, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro, was imprisoned by the Somoza regime. And the association has spoken out loudly against censorship of the paper by the Sandinista government. Lozano said that in recent months, IAPA served as a conduit for money and goods contributed to La Prensa by member papers, although it gave no money of its own.
Although the inquiry regarding the two papers will be closed, the Freedom of the Press Committee will open the sessions in which it receives country-by-country reports on threats to press freedom.
The reports are the heart of the five-day general assembly. Members from each country detail the latest infringements on press freedom in their areas, and the violations range from government restrictions on newsprint all the way to the murder of reporters.
IAPA sends out bulletins and issues protests much more frequently than just the semiannual reports _ the difference between success and failure, between life and death may lie in the speed with which it draws world attention to a journalist's imprisonment or disappearance.
But the semiannual reports compile all the various violations and place them in perspective. Wilbur Landrey, who heads the Freedom of the Press Committee, said this latest report will no doubt criticize conditions in Chile, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Cuba and Mexico. Lan-drey is responsible for writing the report's overview.
"It's always a depressing week when I sit down to do that," he said.