The killing of reporters in Mexico and Colombia and a terrorist attack on a Soviet news office in Guatemala are just a few of the threats to press freedom being condemned this week by journalists meeting in Salt Lake City.
At the general assembly of the Inter American Press Association, an organization of North and Latin American editors and publishers, the week's main activity is compiling a country-by-country report on press freedom violations in the hemisphere.Wilbur G. Landrey, IAPA's press freedom committee chairman, said the association protested 91 violations this year and probably missed some. "Newspapers and journalists continue to be victims of everything from murder and kidnapping to discrimination in the award of newsprint, hard currency and official advertising."
The committee received reports from its representatives in the various countries. The reports will be edited, debated and voted on by the entire assembly.
In the Mexico report, Alejandro Junco de la Vega of the Monterrey newspaper El Norte said his optimism about press freedom when President Miguel de la Madrid was elected in 1982 proved misguided.
Twenty-nine journalists have been killed in the past six years, three in the past six months. In Mexico, "liberty of the press exists," he said, but a journalist may die trying to exercise it.
Junco said the new president, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, has been invited to speak at next year's general assembly in Monterrey, and he urged IAPA members to attend and challenge Salinas on how he will protect freedom of expression.
In Colombia, more than 30 journalists have been killed in recent years. Enrique Santos Castillo of El Tiempo reported that, despite official press freedom guarantees, news executives must travel with bodyguards and use armored cars.
Attacks come from drug dealers, leftist guerrillas and some members of state police forces, he said.
In the Guatemala report, Mario David Garcia accused the administration of Vinicio Cerezo Arevalo of "the worst gagging of the press in 167 years of independence." He cited a terrorist attack that closed the weekly newspaper La Epoca as well as what he said was government suppression of his television news program and another news show.
His assertions were challenged by presidential spokesman Arnoldo Daetz Caal, who said the two shows were not closed - their contracts with the TV stations just expired. Garcia replied that the government threatened the stations' licenses if they renewed the programs.
Daetz noted that Garcia had run for president against Cerezo in 1985, and suggested that his harsh report was politically motivated.
Landrey asked Daetz why Guatemala's government failed to guarantee the safety of correspondents from the Soviet news agency Tass and the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, who left the country after a death-squad bombing of the Tass office.
Although the government tries to protect its citizens, it could not assign the reporters permanent bodyguards, Daetz said.
"It is the duty of every democratic government to do its best to provide a climate of law and order in which freedom of expression can exist," Landrey said.
Other reports heard by the committee included:
*Nicaragua - Violeta Chamorro, publisher of opposition newspaper La Prensa, detailed attacks in the past six months on a La Prensa editor and other journalists. She also reported that the Sandinista government once again closed her paper for 15 days in July and suspended Radio Catolica's news broadcast indefinitely. And she said the government has used control of newsprint supplies to limit La Prensa's coverage.
*United States - Anthony Day, of the Los Angeles Times, said a provision of the new U.S.-Canada trade agreement could be a first step toward press licensing. It defines a journalist for immigration purposes as someone with a bachelor's degree and three years of experience. Day said defining who can be a journalist is a step toward controlling what can be reported.
*Paraguay - Aldo Zucolillo, from the newspaper ABC Color, reported that his paper is coming up on five years of being closed by the government, and Radio Nanduti and the newspaper El Pueblo also remain closed. He also described how the Stroessner government manipulated broadcast coverage of the recent papal visit to downplay criticism of the regime.
*Cuba - Roberto Fabricio of the Fort Lauderdale News/Sun-Sentinel reported there is still no press freedom in Cuba. George Neavoll of the Wichita Beacon-Journal read a note from one of two Cuban journalists imprisoned by Castro for more than 20 years, saying the two may be released before Christmas.
*Ecuador: A spokesman said press conditions have improved markedly since the change of administrations in Ecuador. Problems were common under President Leon Febres Cordero.
*Brazil: Julio Cesar F. de Mesquita of O Estado de Sao Paulo reported that Brazil's new constitution guarantees full freedom of the press, but reporters still must have a journalism college diploma to work.