Reporters Without Borders is today releasing a report entitled “Journalists alone facing trafficking” on the findings of a visit to Paraguay from 3 to 10 July. Carried out with help from members of the Forum of Paraguayan Journalists (FOPEP), the investigation’s aim was to examine the security and reporting challenges that organized crime poses to journalists in Paraguay. The report develops a subject that Reporters Without Borders explored at the worldwide level in an earlier report in February. In the shadow of Brazil and Argentina, Paraguay is the western hemisphere’s biggest marijuana producer and a major hub of trafficking in drugs, arms and prostitution. Ruled from 1954 to 1989 by a military dictatorship backed by a contraband economy, it has since succumbed to international mafias, especially Brazilian cartels that have established rearguard bases there. Since the start of the last decade, it has also had to cope with the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), which started out as “revolutionary guerrilla” group but quickly turned to criminal activities. Journalists operate in isolation and with few resources, especially those based in border regions, trying to get information from authorities that are often poisoned by corruption or are themselves involved in the trafficking. If there is not as much violence against the media in Paraguay as in Mexico, Colombia and Central America, this is due to the high degree of self-censorship that is encouraged by direct pressure, a lack of support from news media for their correspondents and the almost total impunity for the most serious crimes of violence against journalists. This report also highlights a few reasons for hope, including cross-border solidarity between Paraguayan journalists and their Brazilian and Argentine colleagues, and the fact that the current government’s interest in transparency is encouraging the media and civil society to take up sensitive issues after being gagged for so long. Together with the FOPEP representatives who participated in this fact-finding mission, Reporters Without Borders believes that the following initiatives should be undertaken urgently with the aim of improving the ability of journalists to operate in Paraguay: -A reform of the judicial and penal systems leading to better administrative supervision of the activities of judges and police officers with the aim of ending impunity for murders of journalists and the most serious violations of media freedom.
-Adoption of an access to information law that ensures that journalists and the general public are able to question and audit government policies.
-Better regulation of the financing of the media and any other entities or organizations that produce news and information of public interest, with the aim of protecting them from any kind of infiltration by organized crime or use for money-laundering.
-Restrictions on lawsuits with demands for exorbitant damages as they endanger the personal economic situation of journalists and sometimes the survival of their news media. Photo: AFP