Thank you, for that introduction, and thank you for having us today. We are excited to be here—with other friends and colleagues from the Salvadoran government, media, civil society, and the University—to participate in this ceremony that brings together in partnership the United States Department of State, the University of Central America, and the international NGO IREX to promote freedom of expression in Latin America.
Muchas gracias por su introducción estimado Rector Oliva, y muchas gracias por invitarnos este día. Estamos muy emocionados por estar aquí junto a todos estos distinguidos amigos y colegas del gobierno, los medios, la sociedad civil y la academia de El Salvador, para formar parte de esta ceremonia en la que se concretizan los esfuerzos conjuntos del Departamento de Estado de los Estados Unidos, la Universidad Centroamericana, y la ONG Internacional IREX para promover la libertad de expresión en América Latina.
President Obama has expressed the U.S. commitment to the principle that a free press plays a vital role in fostering innovative, successful, and stable democracies, and that independent journalists should be able to operate freely and without fear. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and an indispensable instrument for a representative democracy. It is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And in this hemisphere, the Inter-American Democratic Charter recognizes freedom of expression and of the press as “essential components” of the exercise of democracy.
But despite its recognition as a universal human right, around the world, in every region, freedom of expression is being threatened. Governments employ a range of tactics to harass, threaten, and silence journalists. For example, journalists are selectively prosecuted in the courts through the use of criminal libel and defamation laws, as well as through misuse of anti-terrorism laws. Governments intentionally levy burdensome taxes and fees on independent news organizations, financially crippling them. In order to control messages and access to information, while simultaneously edging out independent voices, governments buy up media outlets and arbitrarily shut down websites and social media platforms.
And beyond these regulatory threats, journalists—particularly those who report on criminal activity and corruption—are often themselves victims of violence. They are threatened, harassed, attacked, even killed and “disappeared” just for doing their job. And when that happens, government institutions often lack the ability to protect journalists and prosecute those responsible.
We are concerned about threats to journalists here in Central America. Journalists in Central America face significant risks to their physical safety and to their ability to report. Gangs and organized crime groups often target journalists. Although governments in the region generally respect freedom of expression, impunity remains a major challenge and leads to self-censorship on important issues like organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption. We are pleased to see that El Salvador has investigated and prosecuted some cases of this kind.
We must work together to protect and advance journalist safety and freedom of expression. And as President Obama has said, governments, including the U.S. government, should work to create societies that honor the role of a free press. The U.S. government strives to do that around the world, both through our diplomacy and foreign assistance programs. Diplomatically, we raise these issues at every level. We are participating in UNESCO’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations this week. In Latin America, we support freedom of expression at the OAS. And just over a week ago, we released our annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in which we report on freedom of speech and of the press in more than 190 countries.
I am proud to be here for the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding that will cement the relationship between the University, IREX, and the State Department. Overall, the State Department has committed $1 million, with provisional plans to provide an additional $1 million, to fund three hubs around the world, including this one at UCA. These hubs are designed to address the threats journalists face in their work, providing trainings to journalists in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras on how to work safely in dangerous environments and online. They’ll also learn how to cope with the stress that comes from working in hostile, unpredictable environments.
In addition to trainings, the hubs will provide real-time help to journalists when, as happens all too often, they receive death threats, are followed or thrown in jail, when they or their family members are kidnapped. In those emergency situations, the hub will sound the alarm and quickly bring financial resources together with influential contacts to get the journalist the help he or she needs. And if a journalist feels that he or she is in imminent danger, the hub will provide a personalized plan for safety.
This hub, along with other U.S. government programs in Latin America, is the embodiment of our long-term commitment to the promotion of freedom of expression. Not only do we provide trainings like the ones that will be provided through the hub; we also invest millions in programs that train local NGOs and media professionals on how to advocate for laws that will foster, instead of quash, media freedom. Other programs promote the adoption of professional codes of conduct, and still others focus on improving the quality of investigative reporting.
But the international community can always do more. So I look forward to learning from the panel today and hearing from others at the reception about how the U.S. government can become even more deeply involved in this important issue. And with that, I turn it over to Jose Luis and our panelists.