By Kimberly Kinnecom / El Planeta &

CAMBRIDGE –Harvard University Nieman Fellows discussed Wednesday the challenges and dangers journalists face throughout Latin America.

At the «Press Freedom in the Americas» seminar, three panelists, all seasoned reporters with experience working in Latin America, overwhelmingly agreed that journalists working in the region are faced with a set of particularly complex challenges that the countries’ political climates directly influence.

Former Mexico City-based freelance journalist Monica Campbell, who concentrated on political movements, immigration and drug cartel violence, said journalists in Mexico are suppressed -and silenced in a number of ways.
Censorship, exile, being «picked-up» or even killed, are common ways journalists are «dealt with,» she said.

Campbell, who also serves as Mexico consultant for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), has conducted on-the-ground investigations of murdered and disappeared journalists. She explained that it is not uncommon for a reporter to disappear for a few days, or longer, if they are reporting on something particularly controversial.

«There is a common link between missing journalists and their work with politicians,» Campbell said. «They’re usually working on very sensitive political reporting.»
There is pressure on reporters, she said, to produce stories on topics that can lead them into violent situations where they are not equipped with proper training or protection to handle those situations. In some cases, the reporters are killed, like veteran reporter Armando Rodriguez, who was gunned down in front of his home in Juarez last November.

While journalists are forming networks to offer support for one another, there is still a high level of distress in Mexico, Campbell said.

«The culture of organized crime in Mexico has poisoned the industry as well; journalists are not immune,» she said.

The second panelist, Boris Muñoz, a Venezuelan journalist and author of Despachos del Imperio, and co-author of La Ley de la Calle: Testimonios de Jóvenes Protagonistas de la Violencia en Caracas, discussed the «media war» that exists in Venezuela as result of the Chavez regime.

According to Muñoz, the Venezuelan government has such tight control of communications that investigative reporting is practically impossible. The government, he said, has created a series of laws and legal instruments to protect its officials from the investigations of the media.

«Journalists have been trapped in a cross-fire between the government and the economic and political interests of the owners of the media,» Muñoz said. «In Venezuela, the legal framework provides a sophisticated mechanism of soft-authoritarianism which allows the government to control the press without systematic, direct repression.»

After giving an in-depth historical perspective on the politics of the Venezuelan press, Muñoz said there is a growing climate of threats and hostility toward journalists and media organizations.

«The independent press and independent journalism are at their lowest points,» he said. As in Mexico and Venezuela, journalism


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