Latin America’s media has become clustered in the hands of fewer owners, damaging freedom of expression despite key advances by governments in freedom of information laws, according to a United Nations study.
A consolidation in media outlets defended political and economic interests, and was against the public good, warned the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development report.
UNESCO identified four countries in the Mercosur trade bloc (excluding Brazil) that had four daily newspapers with more than 60 percent of the market — a move that stifles pluralism and had anti-democratic implications.
“International standards certify that democratic principles in the world regulate the concentration of media ownership,” Guilherme Canela, head of Communication and Information for UNESCO in South America, told La Republica newspaper.
UNESCO viewed the region in mixed terms, writing Latin America “continued to comply with the basic conditions that guarantee freedom of expression and media freedom, although […] even where strong legislation has existed, implementation remained a challenge.”
The report formed a study of comparison with its previous edition in 2007.
It also stood out rising state harassment of journalists and drug-related deaths, as well as the observations on the digital revolution in the study report, presented in Lima last week.
In the last six years, six more countries have passed freedom of information laws – a “dominant trend towards greater transparency in the region”– bringing bringing the total to 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean, though application has been uneven.
But it faced other setbacks with numbers of journalist deaths growing steadily, linked overwhelmingly to organized crime, corruption and drug trafficking.
Mexico passed a constitutional amendment in 2012 to afford greater rights to journalists, while in Colombia the lack of unresolved cases has fallen since 2008 after prosecutors began to reopen cases involving journalists.
However, UNESCO figures show just one in ten crimes committed against journalists result in prosecution.
“The number one issue for the CPJ is violence against journalists,” said Sara Rafksy, researcher for the Americas in the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists in response to the report.
The CPJ has documented the murder or disappearance of more than 50 journalists in Mexico since 2007, when the then-President Felipe Calderon started his offensive against drug cartels.
“Throughout the region, most of these crimes are never solved and the cycle of impunity means those would seek to silence journalists through violence need not fear punishment, and the press is even more at risk,” Rafsky added.
Amnesty International declared 400 threats or attacks on journalists in Latin America in 2010, UNESCO said.
A shortage of imported newsprint imposed by Nicolas Maduro’s government in Venezuela and punitive criminal defamation cases against journalists by President Rafeal Correa in Ecuador have too pared freedom of expression, as mentioned in the report.
Argentina’s Kirchner government’s declaration of the production of newsprint in 2011 as in the public interest, in addition to its attempts at partial censorship of El Clarín were further unsettling events, UNESCO said.
In Peru, concerns about concentration in media ownership were accentuated when El Comercio media group bought a majority stake in the Epensa group this year.
It made it the country’s largest, capturing an almost four-fifths share of Peru’s print media market, expressed in advertising and overall sales.
Eight journalists unsuccessfully contested the move in the courts.
Nobel prize winner and prominent political figure, Mario Vargas Llosa described media concentration as a “potential threat against freedom of expression” and “could arrive at total imposition” at election time, in remarks to Canal N in January.