Posted on Sat, Mar. 29, 2008
By FABIOLA SANCHEZ
Associated Press Writer
CARACAS, Venezuela --
A leading group of newspaper executives warned Friday that the media
face threats in countries from Bolivia to the U.S., while Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez's government held a counter-forum to denounce what
it called "media terrorism."
Leaders of the Inter American Press Association said they are concerned
about press freedom in Venezuela, but insisted that their three-day
meeting in Caracas is meant to review restrictions journalists face
across the region.
"Venezuela is not the focus of our meeting," IAPA president Earl Maucker
said as the meeting began. He said the conference is intended "to talk
about press freedom issues in every country among our membership."
The association is also concerned about free press issues in the United
States, especially cases where journalists have been jailed for refusing
to reveal their sources or in which the government withholds certain
information, said Maucker, who is also editor of the South Florida
Two blocks away, Chavez's supporters attended a parallel,
government-organized "Latin American Meeting on Media Terrorism."
Speakers accused news outlets of slanted reporting and colluding with
Washington and the corporate elite.
Robert Mercado, a 21-year-old student, denounced the IAPA as a group
that "defends the interests of the rich" and works with Chavez's enemies
in the U.S. government "to discredit and attack free, progressive
Chavez praised the counter-forum in a televised speech Friday night,
criticizing what he called a "terrorist and manipulating media campaign"
against his government.
On Thursday, he accused the IAPA of "cynicism," predicting that
delegates would "surely condemn Venezuela for violation of freedom of
expression - but they are going to say that in Venezuela."
The IAPA also lamented that elsewhere in the Americas, about 30
journalists have recently been threatened in Colombia and 25 others are
jailed in Cuba - a "shame for our hemisphere," said Gonzalo Marroquin,
head of the group's press freedom commission.
The group also said tensions have risen in Paraguay as President Nicanor
Duarte and officials harshly criticize the media ahead of April 20
elections, and that pending constitutional reforms in Bolivia also
threaten press freedoms.
The association has repeatedly criticized Chavez's record on free
speech, accusing his government of taking an aggressive stance toward
criticism, harassing some news organizations and using friendly
prosecutors and judges to bring trumped-up charges against journalists.
But Chavez says the news media enjoy ample freedom in Venezuela, noting
that dozens of newspapers, TV and radio stations regularly criticize his
government. He often has clashed with local media, accusing TV channels
and newspapers of conspiring against his government.
The press association invited Chavez to address its semiannual meeting,
but he has yet to take them up on the invitation.