There is no clear front-runner in the presidential election run-off between Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori that is due to take place on 5 June but, with three weeks still to go, the campaign is already having a devastating impact on Peru’s media.
The most serious case concerns César Levano, the editor of the daily La Primera, and Arturo Belaúnde, the president of its board. Wreaths for both were delivered to the newspaper’s Lima headquarters on 11 May. One bore the words “Rest In Peace” and identified the sender as the Lima-based Press and Society Institute (IPYS), Peru’s leading press freedom organization.
Levano told Reporters Without Borders he received another death threat yesterday morning. An anonymous caller told his secretary: “Tell César Levano we are not joking about (the wreaths) and that next time we will kill him.”
“La Primera’s editorial support for Humala is well known, as are IPYS’s activities, including its debate on free speech with the two second-round candidates on 29 April, at which firm pledges were given,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Attacking La Primera and smearing IPYS’s reputation is to insult the principle of editorial diversity and media freedom and pour scorn on those who embody and defend freedom of expression.”
The press freedom organization added: “We hope that an investigation will quickly establish the sources of these threats. We also think it is important that the two candidates should publicly reiterate their promises to guarantee press freedom and respect for the editorial choices made by every news media, regardless of its political tendencies.”
Hate and violence
In another case, around 100 presumed Humala supporters attacked Jaime De Althaus, the producer of a programme on the TV station Canal N, in Lima on 6 May. Reporters Without Borders welcomes the immediate condemnation that was issued by David Abugatás, the spokesman of Humala’s party, Gana Perú. De Althaus nonetheless reports getting more telephone death threats on the night of 11 May.
José Luis Lizárraga, who works for radio Súper Éxito, and José Mandujano, who works for radio Studio 99, were roughed up by Fujimori bodyguards in Satipo, in the central region of Junín, on 5 May, IPYS reports.
The media have unfortunately helped to exacerbate the pre-election climate, with a spate of dismissals (or resignations) of journalist between the two rounds. Most of the dismissed journalists have reportedly been Humala supporters. They include Patricia Montero and José Jara, who were fired from Canal N after resisting pressure to support Fujimori. Canal N is owned by two newspapers, the pro-Fujimori El Comercio and the pro-Humala La República, but El Comercio has the controlling interest.
In the southern city of Arequipa, Federico Rosado Zavala, Jorge Alvarez and Jesús Coa resigned from Radio Líder after the station’s management asked them not to criticize Fujimori because the station has signed an advertising contract with her party, Fuerza 2011. Two other journalists reportedly resigned from Perú 21, a daily owned by the El Comercio group. And the owners of América TV are reportedly planning to fire news director Laura Puertas and other journalists for the same reason after the election.
“These forced or voluntary departures raise many doubts about the principle of fairness that is supposed to prevail during election campaigns,” Reporters Without Borders added. “Editorial preference for one or other candidate does not in any way prevent pluralist coverage of the campaign and certainly does not justify a witch-hunt.
“By yielding to this temptation some media are encouraging the impression that the candidates themselves are pressuring the media although this has not been demonstrated. This situation is affecting the democratic debate. This is all the more reason for the candidates to keep the promises they made during the campaign.”
Media freedom has been suffering serious setbacks of late in Peru. Radio Ollantay programme producer Julio Castillo Narváez was shot dead in the northwestern city of Virú on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day. In addition to this murder and many cases journalists being physically attacked or harassed, two journalists are currently in prison on criminal defamation charges. We call for their release.