LIMA, PERU -- Democracy may have swept almost all of Latin America, but one of its pillars is looking shaky.
Press freedom in the region has sunk to a five-year low. Now just 2 percent of the region's population lives in a completely free media environment — on par with the Middle East and North Africa.
That’s according to the latest annual survey by Freedom House, a Washington, DC advocacy group. South of the Rio Grande, it says, journalists are finding it harder and harder to operate without being censored, harassed and, in some cases, murdered.
Repression by governments and violent retribution by criminal gangs, including drug cartels, are the main culprits.
Also several countries still have oppressive defamation laws that can send reporters to jail for simply doing their jobs.
“It’s an excellent tool for silencing journalists, especially in countries like ours where the justice system is so corrupt,” Adriana Leon of the Peru office of the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), a Latin American journalism watchdog, said of criminal defamation laws.
The 2 percenters
According to Freedom House, last year just four of this region’s nations — Belize,Costa Rica, Guyana and Uruguay — had “free” media.
Even with democracy often fragile here, the idea that just 2 percent of the Latin America's population — the share found in those four countries — can access independent local journalism seems shockingly puny.
Arguably, that figure doesn’t reflect the vibrancy of the commercial media in much of the Americas, or journalists’ willingness to criticize authorities — including sometimes without getting the facts straight.
Meanwhile, Freedom House rated Cuba, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela “not free.” The rest, including Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, fell into the broad 'tweener category of “partly free.”
The DC-based group says it came to these findings after consulting over 60 analysts and mining the research of governments, rights groups and watchdogs worldwide.
“Although there is an element of subjectivity inherent in the index findings, the ratings process emphasizes intellectual rigor and balanced and unbiased judgments,” Freedom House says.
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