News media coalition launches Mexican Free Speech campaign

The coalition will be assembled by ASNE and the Inter American Press Association to press for an end to the escalating violence that is threatening the lives of Mexican journalists and stifling their reporting. The coalition is one of the initiatives that emerged from a summit of Mexican and U.S. newspaper editors held last month in El Paso, a first-of-its-kind gathering of media leaders to confront the hemisphere's most vexing free-press issue.

RESTON, Va. – The American Society of News Editors and the Inter American Press Association are assembling a coalition of organizations in response to the escalating violence in Mexico that is threatening free-speech rights and the lives of journalists.

The coalition is one of the initiatives to come out of a summit of Mexican and U.S. newspaper editors in El Paso in December, a first-of-its-kind gathering of media leaders to confront the hemisphere's most pressing free-press issue.

The coalition will spotlight the violence against journalists that stifles reporting in parts of Mexico; provide support and training for newspapers and journalists in the 11th most populous country in the world; push for changes in enforcement, judicial and legal policies; and speak with corresponding voices on this topic. The coalition also will encourage other media organizations to ensure the issue is on their policy and meeting agendas.

The Border Summit in El Paso was the first step in the development of strategies to address the problem. Attended by about 80 editors, reporters, academics and free-speech advocates, the two-day conference included powerful testimony about the violence and corruption that has taken the lives of more than 30 journalists in the last few years and suppressed the flow of information in many Mexican communities. The campaign will be led by ASNE's International Committee and IAPA's Impunity Project.

“The defense of freedom of speech has been one of the pillars of ASNE's mission,” said Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor, Al Día/The Dallas Morning News and co-chair of the ASNE International Committee. “This is the time to raise our collective voices in defense of journalists and news media entities that are victims of violence and intimidation.”

The coalition will assemble organizations from throughout the hemisphere dedicated to the free flow of information and ethical news media practices. As the history of free press in the Americas has shown, the support of organizations in and outside afflicted countries can be key to bringing change.

The impact of violence fed by corruption and the region's drug trade has affected every part of society in Mexico. Thousands are thought to have been murdered in the past four years as violence – both targeted and random – has swept many parts of the country. Police officers, children, judges, mayors, teachers, prosecutors and workers have been among its victims.

While the coalition is focused on the wide spectrum of violence, its actions are aimed at the narrower issue of its affect on journalism and the flow of information in Mexico – which in turn touches every part of society.

"Violence and murdering journalists are the worst kind of censorship," said Gonzalo Marroquín, IAPA president and editor, Prensa Libre in Guatemala City, Guatemala. "When journalists are killed for doing their job, it's not just the loss of a human life, but society loses too, as the interrupted free flow of information hurts democracy itself." Marroquín has declared 2011 as the "Year of Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press."

The threat against journalists in Mexico will be on the convention agenda when ASNE and IAPA meet in San Diego during the first week of April.

In addition, the first major hemispheric conference on press freedom in the Americas, will be convened by Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow, President, Institute of the Americas, at the University of California - San Diego, in La Jolla.

The Border Summit was supported by The Ford Foundation, The Associated Press, The University of Texas at El Paso, The El Paso Times, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies.

ASNE is a membership organization for leaders of multimedia news organizations and deans and endowed chairs at accredited journalism schools. ASNE focuses primarily on open government and the First Amendment, journalism education, leadership and diversity.

IAPA (Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, in Spanish) is a nonprofit organization devoted to defending freedom of expression in the Americas.

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