lunes, 31 de agosto de 2009
Leading journalists, government officials, human rights advocates and academics signed a Declaration on Freedom of Expression on Aug. 17 as part of an all-day program on making free speech and access to information a “social value” in Mexico.

The signing of the Declaration and related events were part of a project led by Knight International Journalism Fellow Benjamín Fernández and his local partner, the Foundation for Freedom of Expression. Fernández helped write the Declaration. He also participated in launching the foundation last year. It is designed to be a permanent advocate for the rights and safety of journalists. Mexican businessman Carlos Slim, who has media interests in Mexico and the United States, also gave his support to the Declaration and addressed the session.

The Declaration sets out 19 principles of free expression and access to information that are necessary to strengthen democracy in Mexico. “Mexico is one of the most dangerous places to exert freedom of expression, with more than 50 journalists killed in the last 10 years,” Fernández said. “The declaration breaks new ground by establishing freedom of expression as a social value among Mexicans.”

More than 200 people representing the government, media organizations, and civic and human-rights groups attended the event. They came from Mexico and 14 other Latin American countries. Former Bolivian President Carlos Mesa, a historian and journalist, gave the keynote speech at the signing ceremony at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Two working sessions focused on the media’s role in defending freedom and the obstacles journalists face in Latin America. ICFJ Vice President for Programs Patrick Butler spoke about the crucial role that free and independent media play in ensuring stable and prosperous democracies. “We live in a time when the sources of information available to citizens of the world are growing exponentially,” he said. “And yet, in much of the world it is becoming harder and harder to access information and express opinions freely. … At a time when the media are undergoing rapid transformation, it is essential that we reaffirm our commitment to the highest principles of free expression.”

A goal of the event was to build a coalition of citizens, government officials, human rights advocates and media groups to champion freedom of expression and open access to information, Fernández said. “We found this to be the right moment to send a clear message to those who believe that fear and death will stop the expression of ideas,” he said.

The event also was a platform for the launch of two new resources that Fernández has developed. One is an online media law service ( The service will allow journalists to ask a lawyer for information and advice about their right to gather information and how to protect themselves and their sources. “Right now, many forces work against freedom of expression including government restrictions on access to information, a judicial system that does not protect journalists and, of course, the drug cartels that attack and kill any critics in the media,” Fernández said.

The other resource is a new training manual and videos in Spanish that explain Mexico's 2003 access to information law. These resources include tutorials on how to use the access to information law, why access to information is critical to democracy, and media's role in Mexican society. "The videos show how reporters can use the new law to develop good journalism. They are designed to help them overcome the resistance to the aggressive pursuit of information that persists among journalists in Mexico," he said.

Fernández began his fellowship in 2008. Previously, he served as director of Radio Libre in Paraguay. He also was news manager for the Sistema Nacional de Televisión - Channel 9 in Paraguay. A lawyer and a journalist, Fernández's other credentials include: member of the National Constitutional Congress of Paraguay, founder of the Union of Journalists of Paraguay, and a visiting scholar at Harvard University.