Media managers across Latin America see common patterns in the recent spate of attacks on journalists and the media. Throughout the region, these attacks are generated by authoritarian governments wanting to impose “a single narrative”. The aim is to establish an environment where there’s no room for criticism or any other version except the official one.
These were the conclusions of Luz Mely Reyes, during the Fourteenth annual Ibero-American Colloquium on Digital Journalism. Luz Reyes is the cofounder and director of Efecto Cocuyo in Venezuela. She noted that governments are implementing blockades and stigmatization of the media, as well as utilizing the justice system. These tactics form part of a strategy of political polarization, whereby authorities attempt to divide the citizens into good and bad, friends and enemies. This strategy has been applied for several years now in countries such as hers.
These authoritarian regimes “don’t only persecute you [for exercising journalism]. They’re also creating laws “against hate”, that limit and penalize freedom of expression,” Reyes warned. She herself is a veteran of investigative journalism. This dark panorama “leads to a lack of pluralism in the media”, which, in turn, affects citizens’ right to be informed.
Carlos Dada, cofounder and director of El Faro in El Salvador, said the government’s harassment of journalism has followed “a change in traditional political models.” Latin America is going from governments “based on ideologies” to “a populism stripped of ideology, and closer to the practice of power for its own sake.”
This type of government populism normally requires dismantling the democratic institutions. It also involves the destruction of the institutions for accountability, and the elimination of voices critical of the exercise of power. “That’s where we journalists come in, who are often critics of power,” Dada pointed out.
Media seen as “the enemy”
Meanwhile, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, founder and director of Confidencial in Nicaragua, warned that attacks on the media follow a progression. In the case of Nicaragua, after 14 years of an Ortegagovernment, “the regime not only perceives the press as an opposition force, but also as the Enemy. And the Enemy is something to squash,” he emphasized.
Chamorro went on to explain that in the last few years in Nicaragua, the government went from “harassing the press, smearing journalists, closing off access to public information, and spying.” From there, the country entered a stage of: “closing off democratic spaces; imposing television censorship; physical aggression against reporters; customs office blockades, and the criminalization of independent journalism.”
Adela Navarro, general manager of the weekly site Zeta, described the case of Mexico. There, attacks on reporters originate within “two different contexts for aggression”. The first is spearheaded by local governments, that “attempt to discredit the media.” They deny the media public information, intimidate the journalists, and utilize the official propaganda mechanism to reward or punish the media outlets. The second context “is one of threats and impunity, generated by drugtraffickers and organized crime.”
Navarro alleged that the office of the presidency promotes a list of journalists who are favored by the administration of Andres Lopez Obrador, and those considered to be political adversaries. This hostile atmosphere, Navarro explained, “puts journalists and the media outlets in a position of vulnerability.”
Attacks on the press have an effect
As Luz Reyes, director of Efecto Cocuyo sees it, the tactics employed by authoritarian governments against the independent media sites, “clearly work”. In Latin America, “many, many journalists have left their countries and have stopped exercising [their profession]”. This is a direct consequence of threats against them, and the high risk of their profession.
In the case of Nicaragua, Confidencial director Carlos Fernando Chamorro said the increase in government attacks on independent media provoked both “the resistance of the press” and “exile”. Currently, there have been on-going confiscations of property owned by the media. There have also been searches of reporters’ homes, assaults on journalists while covering events, and a combination of physical aggression and closing off of spaces.
He called on the international press to pay more attention to Nicaragua’s sociopolitical crisis. “Not only to express their solidarity, but also to cover this crisis.” The crisis in Nicaragua could worsen during the electoral process, set to culminate on November 7, 2021.
Within this hostile climate, “what keeps journalists going is the solidarity of the citizens,” Navarro declared. “Society is avid for information,” and “the media offer a voice, for those who don’t have one.”