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Worldwide journalist death toll for 2004 was highest in a decade

Uruguayan media did not face significant restrictions in 2004, report says

Posted: March 17, 2005

(CPJ "Attacks on the Press in 2004" Analysis Report)

Although the Uruguayan media did not face significant restrictions in 2004, civil and criminal defamation lawsuits against journalists increased during the year. At least 15 journalists were charged with criminal defamation and 10 with civil defamation, an increase compared with recent years. Under Uruguayan law, defamation is a criminal offense and carries prison sentences of up to three years.

While the media in Uruguay's capital, Montevideo, work relatively free of government intervention, journalists in the country's interior complain that judicial decisions have restricted their ability to disseminate news, according to the journalists association Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya (Association of the Uruguayan Press).

In April, Marlene Vaz, an editor and columnist for the Río Branco–based weekly Opción Cero (Option Zero), in Cerro Largo Department, was convicted of defamation and libel and sentenced to 20 months in prison. A judge later suspended her sentence and ordered her to remain under police surveillance for one year, meaning she must ask authorities for permission each time she leaves Río Branco and must notify them whenever she changes her address.

The charges stemmed from a series of satirical columns in Opción Cero between May 2001 and June 2002. In July 2002, lawyer Jorge Antonio Rivas, who is also a member of Río Branco's City Council, filed a suit against Vaz, claiming that her columns had offended "his honor." Rivas claimed that Vaz made several references about him and his wife in a column called "Cortitas" (Shorts) and used his nickname, "Gato" (Cat), to attack him. Rivas said that Vaz implied that he had urinated in the local council building, consumed alcohol and drugs, and was corrupt. Vaz told CPJ her columns are satirical and that she never made such references to Rivas.

On June 9, Vaz appealed the verdict. While an appeals court dismissed the defamation charges, it upheld the slander charges after ruling that Vaz's columns had invaded Rivas' private life. The court reduced the sentence to 10 months suspended but ordered Vaz to remain under police supervision until April 22, 2005. Under Uruguayan law, defamation is the offense of injuring another person's reputation by false statements, while slander is considered a more general offense.

Civil defamation lawsuits are also on the rise. In several cases, journalists were hit with large fines for "moral and material damages," even though the veracity of their reporting was not challenged. Judges increasingly admit such lawsuits in court and rule against the press.

In a positive development, three suspects were arrested in April in connection with the nonfatal shooting of journalist Ricardo Gabito Acevedo, who was shot in the leg in late 2003. Acevedo, a sports reporter with the daily La República (The Republic) and the TV station Tveo Canal 5, had reported extensively on corruption in Uruguayan soccer. While the alleged gunman remained incarcerated, the two suspected masterminds, who targeted the journalist for his corruption reporting, were released in August and September. At year's end, the three were on trial.

The Uruguayan press reported freely on the October 31 presidential election, which brought a leftist politician to power for the first time in the country's history. Tabaré Vázquez, a socialist doctor, won with more than 50 percent of the vote. In August, Congress passed a law banning political advertising in print media, radio, and television in the month preceding the election. According to local journalists, the law infringed on the right to information and undermined the transparency of the election because the media were not able to publish political advertising, even in cases when the ads contained information considered of public interest.

The Attacks on the Press Analysis Report can be found online at: http://www.cpj.org/attacks04/pages/attacks04index.html
Washington -- Last year was the deadliest year for journalists in a decade, with 56 killed in the line of duty, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says in its newly released analysis of press conditions worldwide, “Attacks on the Press in 2004.”

“As in past years, murder was the leading cause of work-related deaths, with 36 journalists targeted for their work. In all but nine cases, the murders were carried out with impunity,” said CPJ, a New York-based nongovernmental organization dedicated to the global defense of press freedom.

The report, published March 14, said Iraq remained the most dangerous place to practice journalism in 2004, but it also detailed restraints on press freedom and threats to journalists in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere.

In Iraq, 23 journalists and 16 media support workers were killed while on the job, CPJ said; three-quarters of the victims were Iraqis. At least 22 journalists were abducted by insurgents, and one of them was executed by his captors.

Press conditions are deteriorating badly throughout Russia and most of the other former Soviet republics, the CPJ report said.

“CPJ's analysis of the 15 former Soviet republics showed that since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, strong press freedom traditions have been established in only three of the post-Soviet states -- Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Developments in Ukraine offer hope, but elsewhere the press operates with less freedom than it did in the closing years of Soviet communism,” the report said.

In Russia, “a midyear purge of independent voices on state television and an alarming suppression of news coverage during the Beslan hostage crisis marked a year in which Russian President Vladimir Putin increasingly exerted Soviet-style control over the media,” the report said.

On International Press Freedom Day, CPJ named Turkmenistan one of the “World's Worst Places to Be a Journalist” because of the government's “stranglehold” over the domestic media and its persecution of independent news sources.

In Tajikistan, President Imomali Rakhmonov “consolidated his authoritarian rule in 2004, arresting political opponents and cracking down on opposition newspapers,” as well as reminding journalists of their obligation to support the state, CPJ said.

Uzbekistan was “the leading jailer of journalists among the former Soviet republics,” with four journalists in prison at the end of 2004, CPJ said.

In Belarus, the report said, “President Aleksandr Lukashenko strangled the country's independent and opposition media in the months before deeply flawed October elections that returned his supporters to Parliament.”

The report said two journalists were killed in Russia in 2004: Adlan Khasanov, a Reuters cameraman, was killed by a bomb planted by Chechen rebels in Grozny; and gunmen shot and killed Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia,in Moscow.

In Serbia and Montenegro, Dusko Jovanovic, editor in chief of the opposition daily Dan (Day), was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting in Podgorica, Montenegro.

Attacks on the Press said that in 2004 a total of 122 journalists were imprisoned around the world for their work, a figure down slightly from the year before. Three-quarters of those were in just four countries: China, Cuba, Eritrea and Burma.

For the first time in three years, one of the imprisoned journalists is an American, the report said: A television reporter in Rhode Island is serving six months of home confinement for refusing to divulge a source.

In at least 74 cases, journalists were imprisoned on broad "anti-state" charges, such as sedition, subversion, divulging state secrets, and working against the interests of the state, CPJ found.

The countries where journalists were killed in reprisal for their work or in the line of duty, CPJ said, are: Iraq (23); the Philippines (eight); Sri Lanka and Bangladesh (three each); India, Mexico, Nicaragua and Russia (two each); and Brazil, the Dominican Republic, the Gambia, Haiti, Israel and the Occupied Territories (West Bank), Ivory Coast, Nepal, Pakistan, Peru, Saudi Arabia, and Serbia and Montenegro (one each).

In addition, the deaths of 17 other journalists in 2004 were considered suspicious but were listed by CPJ as “motive unconfirmed”: these occurred in Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Colombia, India, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Ukraine and Venezuela, CPJ said.

In 2003, the death toll of journalists was 38 killed in the line of duty and 14 suspicious deaths in which the motive was unconfirmed.


Louise Fenner
Washington File Staff Writer
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)


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