SALT LAKE CITY — As American journalists deal with "fake news" accusations and a president who'd rather tweet than hold press conferences, their colleagues to the south risk their lives to report the truth under the rule of authoritarian regimes.
These disparate threats represent the broad spectrum of challenges facing news media in the Western Hemisphere, but members of the Inter American Press Association don't spend too much time comparing battle scars.
The focus, instead, is on what they have in common: the desire to defend the freedom of the press, said Matt Sanders, IAPA's president and the former senior director of publisher solutions for Deseret Digital Media.
"What's powerful about this organization is that members not only have a trusted legacy in their respective countries as defenders of the freedom of expression, but also tremendous influence," he said.
The diverse membership, built up over the past 74 years, includes leaders of elite media organizations from across the Americas. Participants join forces to combat proposed censorship laws and protect journalists, and they also share tips for remaining profitable in a rapidly changing business environment.
In late October, 250 to 300 IAPA members will converge on Salt Lake City for the organization's annual general conference. Sanders and other organizers have planned a program that blends discussions of the "fake news" phenomenon and other U.S.-specific media issues with broader conversations about how best to protect press freedom.
"There's always a local flavor," Sanders said of the annual event.
Last year in Mexico City, attendees heard remarks from Enrique Peña Nieto, the president of Mexico, who promised to continue his efforts to end attacks on journalists.
This year's gathering, which will take place from Oct. 27—30, will include a presentation by leaders of Deseret Digital Media, remarks from Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, and a conversation between Deseret News Editor Doug Wilks and Martin Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post.
One of the key themes will be cybersecurity, a growing concern in the media world that's already affected one member organization, Sanders said.
"The mayor of San Salvador, El Salvador, sponsored a cyber attack from the Ukraine. (Hackers) cloned La Prensa Grafica's website and delivered" different content, he said.
However, the main event of each general conference is not presentations by famous innovators or an awards presentation. It's the country-by-country report on the state of the freedom of expression, said Ricardo Trotti, IAPA's executive director.
"The objective is to review the major threats facing journalism, including the abuses of governments and illegal groups, either through laws that limit the freedom of the press or actions that threaten the physical integrity of journalists," he said.
The reports help IAPA leaders plan the year ahead, making them aware of proposed policies they may want to oppose or government officials they may want to contact.
In January, Sanders travelled to Mexico with fellow members to speak against a plan to fine broadcasters if they failed to label stories as either "fact" or "opinion." The IAPA alerted Mexican legislators of their concerns and the potential regulation was eventually dropped.
"The IAPA has offered a lot of support to countries trying to maintain press freedoms," said Gary Neeleman, a long-time member of the IAPA who spent 27 years with United Press International, primarily in South America, before transitioning into consulting work.
He noted that each year's general conference is also an opportunity for casual socializing, which is a valuable way for media leaders and journalists with varied backgrounds to connect and learn from each other.
"We have more in common than we don't. We're trying to find the way to cover the news accurately and without partiality," he said.
Members are united in their willingness to make sacrifices to ensure that the freedom of the press is guaranteed, whether that means traveling to faraway countries or literally putting their lives on the line, Sanders said.
"One of my life's greatest honors is to be associated with some of these people, the front-line heroes in the battle for democracy in the Americas," he said.