“Pressionados”: New Wave of Media Censorship in Latin America


EspañolThe documentary Pressionados* released by the US-based, Spanish-language network Univision on December 15 — denounces the deterioration of press freedom in Latin America over the past few years. The film, produced by Tomás Ocaña and Mariana Atencio, tells the story of journalists from Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina who have suffered aggression on account of their profession, including Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez.

These reporters, far from enjoying freedom, live in constant fear of retaliation. However, they continue to fight to have their voices heard. In particular, the documentary highlights investigative journalism as the most affected in Latin America, where reporters have to suffer through a wide range of problems: fear for their security and that of their families, and fear of being publicly discredited by government officials.

Honduras, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico, and Guatemala, are countries where criminal gangs intimidate reporters who cover organized-crime stories. According to the Investigative Commission for Assaults on Journalists, Mexico is the country with the highest number of murdered journalists. In the documentary, Javier Valdéz — a Mexican journalist and founder of the Rio Doce newspaper — talks about the time when he covered drug-trafficking stories, and a grenade was thrown in retaliation at the newspaper headquarters in September, 2009.

On the other hand, in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Argentina, a new kind of harassment of the press has arrived. Unlike Mexico, the rulers are the ones who attack the investigative press when they reveal anomalies and corruption inside the government. Pressionados documents the violent attacks presidents have made towards the writers of news stories or commentaries that criticize their administrations.

President Rafael Correa, during an interview on the Habla Ecuador TV show, denigrates journalist Emilio Palacio. Correa had claimed he was stuck in a stop-over in Miami, but the journalist photographed him as he looked to be shopping in the city — and the nation’s highest representative became enraged.

“This sick Emilio Palacio, along with the maggots who are against the Cuban revolution, and his tabloid, waited in a restricted area to take pictures . . . These people, what a human misery, human poverty, and Emilio Palacio, a real sick man, poor him, I feel pity for him, he’s a psychopath, and the most dangerous ones are the sick psychopaths . . .”

In Argentina, Juan Cruz Sanz, former contributor for the Clarín newspaper, also reveals how he was publicly discredited with wall posters on the streets that called him “Clarín’s dumb slave,” and signed by Front for Victory — president Cristina Fernández’s ruling party. Just this month, a journalist from TN — an Argentinean network that belongs to the same company as the Clarín (Grupo Clarín) — interviewed Argentina’s Chief of Staff Jorge Capitanich. As the video shows, after the journalist asks him a question, Capitanich doesn’t answer; instead, he attacks him, because Grupo Clarín supposedly doesn’t comply with the Law for Media.

The documentary reveals an important insight: the countries where most of the attacks come from the government are the same ones where the state controls a relatively greater portion of the media, which fosters a climate of opinion that lacks criticism. For example, in Ecuador, since 2005, the government has created at least 17 state media outlets; in Venezuela, in May of this year, Globovisión network — the only one left with any critical voice — was sold to people close to the regime; and in Argentina, 80 percent of the media is controlled through government funding and advertising.

Although the documentary has sharp analysis regarding new types of censorship on journalism, it doesn’t explore the causes behind the government’s repression and attacks on the media. Whatever those causes may be, the attempts to dominate public opinion and the reporters’ feard harm citizens, since their right to information is restricted.

In Latin America, the violations of freedom of expression are no longer a front-page story; however, this documentary reminds us about how dangerous a small group can be, when it centralizes all the information and claims to be the only spokesperson of an absolute truth.

Translated by Marcela Estrada.

*Pressionados is a play on the words, press and presionado — combined to mean a pressured press.

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