The South America region includes the nations of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as the British overseas territory of the Falkland Islands, and the French overseas department of French Guiana.
The region as a whole has liberalized during the past three decades, with the demise of longtime military regimes and dictatorships in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay and a transition to democracy. But crime and violence persist in countries with internal conflict and illicit drug trade, such as Colombia and Peru, and press freedoms remain spotty.
In Ecuador, concerns about media repression have grown since President Rafael Correa took office in 2007. Correa has cracked down on dissent in a variety of ways, prompting the Committee to Protect Journalists to call Ecuador “one of the hemisphere’s most restrictive nations for the press.”
He has forced programmers to air lengthy official rebuttals to critical news reports, pre-empted hundreds of broadcasts for presidential speeches, used new laws to regulate media ownership and content, and used defamation laws and smear campaigns to silence critics, CPJ found.
In particular, he won a high court criminal libel verdict in February 2012 against three owners and the editor of the newspaper El Universo, Ecuador’s largest. In early 2011, El Universo had published an opinion column by the editor criticizing Correa as a “dictator” who ordered troops to fire on civilians during a demonstration. The owners and editor were sentenced in July 2011 to three years in jail and fined $40 million, a penalty that threatened to bankrupt the paper. Despite issuing a pardon in the case, CPJ said Correa’s actions “have done grave damage to free expression in his country.”
The Overseas Press Club has also criticized Correa’s actions.
In Venezuela, two media executives similarly faced criminal charges in 2011 after publishing a satirical article and photo about President Hugo Chávez. Chávez and his administration have also used a variety of regulatory and legal measures to clamp down on dissenting media. One television station was fined more than $2 million for its coverage of prison rioting.
Journalists in Venezuela face a potentially dangerous environment, with one killed in 2011. The Overseas Press Club decried a pattern of press freedom violations and the deaths of several journalists in 2008 and 2009.
In Colombia, journalists continue to face violence, though it has lessened in recent years.
In Peru, three journalists were killed in 2011 – at least one in retribution for his work – and four were convicted of criminal defamation.
In Brazil, where 19 journalists were killed from 1992 through 2011, violence remains a problem, particularly in provincial areas with little law enforcement and in cities, where organized crime and drugs are hazards. The International Press Institute issued a special report in March 2012 warning of increased violence against the media in Brazil’s frontier regions.
And in Argentina, publishers protested against economic pressures imposed by the government.
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