Speech Earl Maucker

Address at Caracas Mid-Year meeting March 2008 It seems like only yesterday when, at the conclusion of the General Assembly in Miami last October, I stated my commitment to the cause for freedom of expression, even as we face many challenges on the road ahead. The fact that we are gathered here today in Caracas is a clear sign that this journey we have undertaken together is everything we intended it to be and it demonstrates that when we are united in a cause and won’t back down we will prevail. I wasn’t sure of exactly what to expect as I took the presidency of the Inter American Press Association, but I must tell you it’s been exciting, revealing and life changing experience for me. Beginning with our efforts here in Venezuela, the past few months have been dramatic. We came to Venezuela last November, not sure at all we’d be able to pull it off. At the time, the proposed constitutional amendments were threatening to undermine the people’s right to express their own opinions — a right they must have if they are to thrive in a true democracy. We were greeted by an ad declaring us persona non grata with an allegation that the IAPA’s mission was to create violence and disrupt the government’s efforts. We made it clear then and we make it clear now, that was never our purpose. Our mission was to stand with our fellow journalists to defend press freedom in every last corner of the hemisphere where it may be in danger. The fact that we are standing here today is a testament to all those who came on that mission to declare our intent. Our efforts received wide publicity even in the United States, which has generally downplayed such efforts. My commitment remains firm to uphold the core principles and missions of the IAPA. There have been delays in some areas, but by no means does this mean we have set those initiatives aside. First of all, we remain intent on maintaining the IAPA’s strong position in every country in the hemisphere. Our organization has grown dramatically in recent years, and this is a sure sign of work well done. Two key components of our success are the Chapultepec Program — which advocates for the repeal of press laws by holding national forums with leaders of the judicial, legislative, and executive branches, and by maintaining a dialogue with opinion leaders — and the Impunity Project, which projects a strident voice to fight crimes against journalists. Our track record is impressive. Since January 2007 we have organized or participated in 54 activities, such as missions, conferences, forums and seminars, and we have mobilized a total of 658 people, including members, journalists, media executives, legislators, judges, political figures, and civil society leaders. We have made our presence felt in almost every country and every region in the Americas. In addition, 1,433 people participated in three key gatherings of the IAPA: our Midyear Meeting in Cartagena, our General Assembly in Miami, and a hemispheric conference in Santo Domingo where Supreme Court chief justices from throughout the hemisphere came together to discuss ways to fight impunity. This record speaks for itself. But even with this growth and success, a healthy dose of internal self-criticism reveals our relatively weak presence in some countries compared to others. One such country is my own, the United States. This year has obviously been a financially difficult one for many U.S. newspapers. In some cases companies have merged and ownership has changed hands. And some media outlets that had been very active in the IAPA are no longer with us — not because they lack interest in our mission but due to these financial hardships and changes in ownership. The lack of participation by U.S. papers is approaching a crisis point, in my opinion. While we’re doing all we can to generate interest, the financial situation at most papers continues to be the major barrier. In Florida, for instance, one of our staunchest supporters, Pat Yack at Jacksonville who was leading an effort for Sunshine Week in all newspapers in the Hemisphere left his company because of a financial dispute. It’s our intention to use this time on uncertainty to highlight the importance of a leadership grounded in the balanced perspective that has guided our organization’s position and vision for the Americas. We must refocus on the true source of our ability to achieve a greater tomorrow in line with our objectives. I refer to our organization’s strongest asset --- you, its members ---and how the benefits of membership help you pursue your daily work to the fullest while defending the principles of the IAPA. Our core mission is very clear, and we are the organization that is most committed to defending press freedom. The greatest difference between us and other press organizations around the world is our unwavering commitment, which lies at the heart of our work. Our members also devote their own time and money to participate in our missions, and this makes their collaboration doubly important. We have been forced to postpone some initiatives. One was our effort to stake out a greater presence in Cuba, where we continue to demand the release of the 25 independent journalists behind bars, several of whom are suffering serious health problems. After my speech in Miami where I spoke of an initiative to reach out to Cuba, I was informed that my visa to visit my own bureau in Havana would no longer be approved as long as I held the presidency of the IAPA. While this action on the part of the Cuban government was not surprising based on what we know of their failure to embrace a free and open press, we will not back down. Another effort we are working on is a closer relationship with US.-based organizations such as the American Society of Newspaper Editors. We will be attending the ASNE’s annual convention in Washington next month and our hope is still to carry out a joint mission in the coming months and to support one another in our future work. ASNE’s leadership is very close to that of the IAPA, and the fact that we can schedule a joint gathering in 2011 is a sure sign that this effort is possible and will clearly benefit our mission. As part of our self-criticism, we should also note our low level of involvement in Brazil. At the invitation of the Brazilian newspaper association, I went to Brasília last December and spoke with great conviction about our work to our Brazilian colleagues. Our past work and strong tradition remain alive in Brazil, and I am certain that we will reassume our leadership role in that country in the coming months. Many newspapers in Brazil share our viewpoints. They are still there, they have not gone anywhere, and it is our duty to reawaken them and bring them back into the fold. In this effort we must support our leading Brazilian colleagues, many of whom have a long history that is intertwined with that of the IAPA. To follow up on my visit to Brasília, IAPA Vice President Enrique Santos will return to Brazil in May to reaffirm our support and seek ways to move forward with our colleagues there. None of this has come at the expense of our work in other countries. We are scheduled to visit Bolivia in May to learn more about the problems facing our members there. Meanwhile, our international presence has been strong and highly successful. Immediately after this meeting in Caracas, we will head to Guatemala for a Chapultepec Legislative Forum, where we will speak with Guatemalan leaders and ask the new president to sign on to the Declaration of Chapultepec. We have also met with Salvadoran President Tony Saca, who was very willing to listen to us. President Saca will carry our request to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for an advisory opinion on the decriminalization of what are known as “crimes against honor” and, in particular, laws on desacato (insult). I also testified during at a special meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington, which was called by the Permanent Council to discuss the right to freedom of thought and freedom of speech. I spoke from my experience as a journalist, and I was told my words were well received by delegates from throughout the hemisphere. General Secretary Insulza was there, and later we met privately to speak about his participation in this meeting here in Caracas. We will be in the Dominican Republic in April to promote a discussion between security forces and journalists on transparency and collaboration as part of the Chapultepec Program. We celebrate two major victories on the legal and judicial front. A Mexican bill decriminalizing defamation-related offenses was signed into law, which means that disputes at the federal level over alleged damage to someone’s reputation will be handled by civil courts. This will lead to a decrease in the self-censorship that journalists practice for fear of being sent to jail. Meanwhile, the Argentine Supreme Court handed down a historic decision banning the government from using its advertising as a means of rewarding or punishing media outlets for their editorial position. As for internal matters, all of you have seen that our house is very much in order. One of the first initiatives I undertook was to make the Executive Committee more effective, which required adjusting a bureaucratic structure that was getting out of hand. We also had to cut down on the number of committees. This initiative was welcomed by members, and with great satisfaction I can assure you that our internal structure is now smaller but much more effective. We are half-way there, and I am pleased with what we’ve done. We will be stepping up our work in the coming months, but let me congratulate those people from throughout the hemisphere who have been right by my side throughout. I would first like to thank Gonzalo Marroquín. The Press Freedom Committee has done an outstanding job, and has shown itself to be capable of responding whenever it is needed. It is important to notice just how the IAPA responds, and how it is able to command attention at the international level, whenever we raise our voice from Miami in protest. A journalist once asked me how we could be more proactive. I answered him succinctly: Just look at the attention that our protests raise. No government ignores them, and more importantly, our message gets across very effectively, and usually gets results. The New Members Committee, which took the brunt of our recent adjustments, is now stronger than ever. Though it has a tough job in the United States and Canada, positive steps have been taken to gain more members in these countries, and quite impressively, despite the current crisis, the results have been good. We have already said quite a bit about Brazil, but once again I’d like to thank the leaders of this committee who have been the driving force behind on our work there. I am deeply grateful to Gustavo Mohme for the excellent work as head of the Awards Committee, which made history this year with a record number of nominations. And I can’t fail to thank Jaime Mantilla and Bob Caldwell for the commendable job they have been doing with the Press Institute, with its unremitting schedule of seminars and programs. The Finance and Audit Committees have done a great job as well in helping us achieve sustainable growth, a goal that many other press organizations are struggling to reach in a time of financial hardship. This is the state of our organization. Once again I thank all of you for your support. I thank the publishers and editors of large newspapers who are at our side. I thank the editors of small media outlets, far removed from the large cities, who are following our lead. And I thank the journalists who identify with our work and our mission. I would like to leave you with this thought. An individual’s or organization’s ability to face adversity builds character. When one succeeds meeting the challenges as we have in our journey to bring our meeting to Caracas, we emerge as a stronger organization. Our efforts, I believe, have elevated our credibility and reinforced our determination to defend freedom of the press — no matter where. We have proven we are loyal to our fundamental principles to protect and promote the interests of our members, our colleagues and journalists throughout the hemisphere. I would like to thank the Venezuelan Press Bloc, the staff of the IAPA, the owners of this hotel and all those who shared our vision from the beginning to stand united in our efforts to have this meeting in Caracas. All of this is, for me, the IAPA — an organization that works fervently for its ideals, and one, which I am honored to lead. I thank all of you for continuing to make our organization stronger in this unending battle. Thank you.