Press freedom deteriorated in 2004. Violence against the media increased and, for the first time since 1997, two journalists were murdered. Provincial media were hardest hit, but Lima was not spared.

Violence against the media grew during the year, with 70 journalists threatened or physically attacked and two murdered for criticising local politicians.

Antonio de la Torre Echeandía, of Radio Orbita, who was killed on 14 February in Yungay (400 kms north of Lima), had criticised the town government for mismanagement. Alberto Rivera Fernández, of Radio Frecuencia Oriental in Pucallpa, was killed on 21 April soon after a TV programme, for which he was the source, had criticised the mayor of Coronel Portillo, a city neighbourhood, for drug trafficking.

Local officials in many parts of the country do not tolerate criticism. Renán Palacios, of Radio Constelación in Ica (south of Lima), had to flee to the capital for a while after accusing a senior official of a cultural institution of involvement in smuggling artefacts.

The authorities were not the only threat to the media. About 50 peasants in Huancabamba (in the northwestern province of Piura) set upon Duber Mauriola Labán, of Radio Centinela, on 27 December for defending on the air the Majaz mining company which they claimed was polluting the area and for allegedly inspiring the ransacking of a rival radio station.

Two blacklists containing the names of journalists were found at a house in the eastern region of Ucayali of two presumed members of the Maoist Shining Path guerrilla organisation, which has faded since the mid-1990s. The state of emergency in five provinces was extended at the beginning of the year because the guerrillas were active there. It was the first time in years that the group had targeted the media.

The journalists named were accused of backing the government's coca eradication programme, criticising pro-coca-growing peasant leaders and misinforming the public about the guerrillas.

Violence reaches the capital

Lima was not spared the increased violence against the media and 22 journalists were threatened or physically attacked there during the year. Until then, the national media seemed to have escaped. In most cases, the journalists were targeted by politicians or thugs who objected to their presence.

More worrying were threats to reporters Pablo O'Brien and Miguel Ramírez, of the daily paper El Comercio, who were investigating businessman Fernando Zevallos González for drug trafficking. The threats began in February and on 24 October, the bodyguard of one reporter was shot and wounded in suspicious circumstances.

Relations between the government and the national media were also sometimes tense. "Journalists aren't doing their job of reporting the government's achievements," the wife of the deeply unpopular President Alejandro Toledo complained in June. "They're useless." The prime minister tried to minimise her remarks by saying she was not questioning the "talents" of journalists.

The president did not appreciate the gesture of Heidi Grossman, of the America Televisión station, who tried to present him in late December with a false bomb that she said most Peruvians would like to give him. She and her cameraman were briefly detained by anti-terrorist police on suspicion of wanting to harm the president.

Journalists Alvaro Vargas Llosa, son of writer Mario Vargas Llosa, and Humberto Ortiz decided to leave the country to escape an arrest warrant in a libel case after they had accused pro-government figures of corruption.

In 2004...

  • 2 journalists were killed
  • 2 arrested
  • 2 exiled
  • 54 physically attacked
  • and 16 threatened

Personal account

From silence to an enormous din

Ricardo Uceda heads the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), founded during the 1990-2000 rule of President Alberto Fujimori. The press freedom organisation exposed his secret efforts to control the media, especially television. Uceda describes the state of Peruvian broadcasting five years later.

A journalist of the America TV station tried to hand President Alejandro Toledo a false plastic bomb on the air last December. The incident was very typical of Peruvian television today. The journalist was arrested and only freed when police were sure it was a hoax. One of the station's news editors explained that a poll had shown many viewers would like to see the very unpopular Toledo "blown up."

The joke showed how little the media was afraid of him. During the rule of his predecessor Fujimori, the station's boss received pay-offs from the president's powerful adviser, Gen. Vladimiro Montesinos, to ensure the station put out news favourable to Fujimori. Then, it was corruption without press freedom. Now it's democracy with a touch of excess.

During the Montesinos-Fujimori era, all terrestrial TV stations (channels 2, 4, 5, 9, 13 and the state-owned RTP) were controlled by the intelligence services, which bribed them. Now the privately-owned media are independent but face the challenge of better informing the public about serious matters and surviving financially without help from the government.

Four years after Fujimori fled, the advantages of media freedom are visible even if it's sometimes abused. The anti-government station Frecuencia Latina, on channel 2, puts out one of the most hard-hitting programmes, "La ventana indiscreta" (The Indiscreet Window). América TV, on channel 4, takes an independent line and its programme "Cuarto Poder" (Fourth Power) criticises the government harshly and regularly.

On the other side, Panamericana TV openly backs Toledo's government, enabling it to more confidently face a number of lawsuits. The station RTP takes an even-handed attitude, even though it is controlled by the education ministry. Channels 9 and 13 take a low profile, disturbing nobody and not targeted by anyone. The independent station N is available by subscription.

The authorities can no longer prevent stations from broadcasting news the public has a right to know, but the overall quality of news is not always the highest. The country is disappointed with democracy. Even though the economy has improved, serious social problems remain.

The government and politicians in general are more and more unpopular and accusations against them are growing in the media. Some are well-founded, others not at all, and others only half. Journalists, citizens, opposition politicians and even government supporters all join in the accusatory din.

Toledo has certainly allowed corruption to eat away at his party and some scandals point to him directly. True or not, the charges are hurled and the public can no longer make much sense of them. Not all of them are heard on TV, but the stations are a sounding-board and journalists busily report accusations and denials. Peruvian television faces another challenge, to make serious investigations to establish the truth.

December 2004


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