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Journalism in Paraguay: Agression, Censorship and Media Concentration

The Union of Journalists of Paraguay SPP (Sindicato de Periodistas de Paraguay) and other organizations of media workers condemned last 25 April, on the occasion of the honouring of the journalist Santiago Leguizamón, murdered 25 years ago, the attacks against journalists and community radios, the censorship by media entrepreneurs, as well as the increasing professional precarization in the media sector of Paraguay. They also criticized the increasing concentration of national media in the hands of private groups, including the country’s president, Horacio Cartes.

Meeting on the Day of the Journalist

This situation, the aspects of which are particularly problematic for freedom of expression, was described during the tribute paid to the journalist Santiago Leguizamón, who was murdered 25 years ago. This honour was organised by the SPP on 26 April as part of the celebrations on Journalist’s Day in Asunción. During the event, several speakers also recalled the murder of 17 female reporters since 1991.

The organization VOCES Paraguay, a committee consisting of 40 community radios and alternative media in Paraguay, also pointed out that one of the most influential media groups in the country was in the hands of President Horacio Cartes. Since 2015, he has acquired “three printed and three digital daily newspapers, one AM frequency radio station, one FM frequency radio station and one online radio station”. These are the daily newspaper La Nación, Radio 9.70 AM, the Internet portal Hoy.com, the daily newspaper ADN, the TV Unicanal station, Radio UNO AM, Radio Laser, Radio Montecarlo FM and the daily newspaper Diario Crónica.

In this context, the newspaper E´a published a study that stresses that “the Cartes Group got hold of the Domínguez Dibb group’s media company in one fell swoop by acquiring its four media organs for an unknown sum of money. A few months later she bought the media of the Wasmosy group (El Popular, Hoy.com y Radio UNO) at lightning speed. The same happened with Unicanal through the entrepreneur Javier Bernardes and also the daily ADN.

Legality of media concentration controversial

Paraguay’s constitution declares presidential candidates in possession or co-ownership of media inadmissible. However, the legal experts are divided as to whether this ban also applies to presidents. What is certain is that by accumulating his businesses, the president will bring political, economic and media power with all the consequences that this has for setting the agenda and representing public concerns. Journalists and analysts in the country confirmed that Horacio Cartes had begun to use his media both to disseminate “official opinion” and to attack his political opponents.

The visualisation of the problem of violence against journalists, media concentration and the impairment of community radios in Paraguay reached a climax in July 2015 when the SPP, together with the International Freedom of Expression eXchange IFEX network, presented a report for the Universal Periodic Review in Paraguay 2016 to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.

According to the IFEX/SPP report, “Paraguay’s constitution prohibits the existence of media monopolies, without however referring to oligopolies or the purchase of media, aspects that have increasingly given rise to public debate. The role of the National Telecommunications Commission CONATEL (Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones) in the effectiveness of monitoring and control of media concentration in Paraguay is also questioned. CONATEL was criticised for having attached more importance to economic efficiency within the communications market than to diversity of perspectives. This diversity must prevail in the media landscape of a democratic society where freedom of expression is respected. This criticism has been expressed in particular by associations of community radio stations, which feel that their access to the radio spectrum is impaired, even though telecommunications law recognises their presence there.

Special commission to ensure justice

In this context, the State has undertaken to set up a special commission within the Public Prosecutor’s Office to bring to justice those responsible for attacks on journalist and human rights defenders. In particular, the murders of the 17 journalists who have remained unsolved and whose perpetrators have neither been convicted nor brought to justice are to be investigated.

About Paraguay

Paraguay is a landlocked country in South America, bordering Brazil to the east, Argentina to the south and west, and Bolivia to the north and west. Paraguay is, besides Bolivia, the only state in South America that has no direct access to the sea. It borders Bolivia to the northwest and north, Brazil to the east and Argentina to the south and west. With a national territory of almost 407,000 km², the country is about as large as Germany and Switzerland put together.

Subtropical climate. Tropical in the north, otherwise subtropical with a rainy season between October and May. The Paraguayan spring (Oct. – Nov.) is considered to be the most pleasant season of the year, as November in particular shows itself in all its exotic splendour and abundance of flowers. The summer and holiday seasons are from December to March. Despite the predominantly beautiful (often hot) weather, the rainy season also falls in this part of the year with some heavy showers. Rainfall increases from the west (600 mm) to the east (2000 mm). In the Gran Chaco the summer temperatures reached values up to 40°C.