The press freedom situation is stable despite a still fragile political situation. Corruption remains a tricky subject.
Investigating corruption and smuggling along the borders with Brazil and Argentina can be dangerous for journalists, but press freedom is otherwise satisfactory.
The campaign which resulted in the election of President Nicanor Duarte on 27 April 2003 was not marred by any press freedom violations. His predecessor, Luis González Macchi, left office under a cloud, narrowly escaping impeachment by the senate for corruption and incompetence. Duarte’s Colorado Party, though split, has been in power since 1947.
A libel conviction against a journalist and a judge’s temporary censorship of a satirical TV programme in early September showed that the country’s courts still sometimes have a narrow view of freedom of expression.
Eight journalists physically attacked
Osvaldo Benítez, Fernando Romero, Agustín Acosta, Celso Figueredo, of the daily Noticias, and Leoncio Ferreira, Mario Valdez, Claudio Prieto and Bernardo Agusti, of the daily Ultima Hora, were briefly held captive on 2 May 2003 by the inhabitants of illegal shacks in San Lorenzo (20 km from Asunción) while they were reporting on the occupation of nearby houses by landless and homeless peasants. They were threatened and intimidated by firecrackers.
Three journalists threatened
Gustavo García, of the daily Ultima Hora, received anonymous telephoned death threats on 28 April 2003 which he assumed were linked with his frequent reporting on corruption, including at that time a financial scandal involving a wealthy Chinese businessman and a former head of the central bank.
Cándido Figueredo, correspondent for the daily ABC Color in Pedro Juan Caballero (on the Brazilian border), was threatened on 14 October by a policeman, Santiago Montanía, who pointed his gun at him and order him to leave town within a month. The policeman fled when Figueredo’s two bodyguards intervened. In July, the journalist had seen Montanía terrorising people at a gas station and filed a complaint after the officer fired at his car.
Rosando Duarte, correspondent for the daily Ultima Hora in Salto de Guaira (on the Brazilian border), filed a complaint on 22 October after being warned that someone was planning to kill him. A few weeks earlier, he had reported on the death of a big-time criminal, Vidal Encima, and written about his supposed links with gangsters on the border.
Harassment and obstruction
Judge Marcos Kohn Gallardo temporarily banned the satirical TV programme "Telecomio" on 10 September 2003 at the request of Antonio Debernardi, who did not want it to mention the trial of the kidnappers of his wife. The programme, broadcast by the station Telefuturo, had already made fun of the trial. The judge lifted the ban on 16 September on grounds of public interest.
Luis Verón, of the daily ABC Color, was sentenced on appeal on 31 October to 10 months in prison for libel, with an alternative of doing community service. The journalist, a member of the national historical and scientific societies, had criticised in a 19 September 1999 article the methods used by architect Luis Fernando Pereira Javaloyes to restore paintings at a church in Piribebuy, near Asunción. He called the work "an attack on national heritage" and said the architect was "incompetent and ignorant" based on reports by restoration experts. The court said the criticism was too strong.