Soft Censorship: Chipping Away at Press Freedom in Latin America

While not as overt as traditional forms of censorship, soft or indirect censorship is slowly but surely chipping away at freedom of expression. Governments in Latin America are using financial, legal, and administrative pressures to influence media coverage. In Argentina and Colombia, the government has repeatedly used advertising contracts to reward or punish media companies. In Venezuela, Ecuador, and elsewhere, legislatures are considering media laws and administrative procedures that would effectively result in self-censorship. Finally, the allocation of broadcast licenses presents another avenue for governments to punish or control specific media outlets.



Alvaro Herrero
Asociación Derechos Civiles (Argentina)

Cesar Ricaurte
Fundamedios (Ecuador)

Luis Botello
International Center for Journalists

With introductory remarks by Don Podesta, Center for International Media Assistance

About the panelists:

Alvaro Herrero is the executive director of the Buenos Aires-based Association for Civil Rights (ADC). He holds a law degree, a master’s degree in Latin American Studies, and a doctorate in Political Science. Formerly, he worked at an Argentine federal court and several non-profit organizations, including the Inter-American Development Bank, Inter-American Dialogue, and International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Herrero has published articles and conducted projects in fifteen Latin American countries. In 2008, ADC published the book, The Price of Silence: The Growing Threat of Soft Censorship in Latin America, which analyzed the use of government advertising in seven countries in the region. The study documented the pressures and conditions that governments in Latin American exert over media companies and journalists, and their impact on freedom of expression and access to information.

Cesar Ricaurte is a journalist and the executive director of the Quito-based Andean Foundation to Observe and Study Media (FUNDAMEDIOS). In his professional career, Ricaurte has worked for multiple newspapers including El Comercio, Vistazo and El Universo, among others. He writes a weekly column for the Diario Hoy, and produces a radio program entitled “The Media Observatory.” He recently co-authored the book, Broken Word: Six Investigations on Ecuadorian Journalism. FUNDAMEDIOS is a regional initiative that seeks to protect press freedom and promote professional, responsible journalism in Ecuador. It has actively participated in discussions regarding proposed media legislation in Ecuador.

Luis Manuel Botello is the senior program director of special projects at the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), where he is responsible for developing strategies for expanding ICFJ’s work and overseas monitoring and evaluation systems. He worked for ten years as ICFJ’s Latin American program director and launched the ICFJ’s International Journalism Network (IJNet), an online media assistance news service. Botello previously served as morning newscast producer, host, and television reporter for Televisora Nacional in Panama, where he covered assignments in Colombia, the United States, and Europe. He is a member of the board of directors of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin and the Latin American Journalism Center (CELAP) in Panama City, Panama.

Don Podesta is the manager and publications editor at the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy. Formerly, he was an assistant managing editor at The Washington Post, where he worked for 27 years. Podesta also served as the paper’s news editor and deputy foreign editor, editing dispatches from correspondents in more than 20 bureaus around the world. From 1992 to 1994, he was the Post’s correspondent in South America, covering Peru’s war against the Shining Path guerrilla movement; presidential elections in Bolivia, Chile, and Paraguay; the drug violence in Colombia; and several economic, social, and environmental issues in Brazil and Argentina. Before joining the Post, he worked as an editor or reporter for the Washington Star, the Minneapolis Star, the Miami Herald and the Arizona Republic.