Press freedom suffered in 2003 from the political instability and the efforts of a discredited government to control its image. At the local level, journalists had to deal with politicians who were often quick to take offence. The broadcasting sector, hit by corruption during Alberto Fujimori’s presidency, struggled to reform itself.
President Toledo had to impose a state of emergency several times in 2003 to contain street protests against his economic policies. In the ensuing tension, journalists were threatened and attacked by both security forces and demonstrators. Journalists also received many threats and attacks from local politicians who still cannot tolerate criticism.
The year was also marked by press espionage revelations, recalling the Fujimori era (1990-2000) when the press was closely monitored by the intelligence services. Back then, the spying was aimed at stifling all criticism while the latest cases were largely clumsy attempts by the government to avoid leaks that could discredit it even more.
They began in mid-August with the broadcasting on television of a private phone conversation between the President Toledo and an aide that added one more dent to the unpopular president’s image. Toledo was heard voicing reservations about visiting a province in the grip of protests. The government then maladroitly tried to prevent this kind of leak with a bill proposing eight-year prison sentences for the illegal recording or dissemination of phone conversations. The bill was quickly abandoned.
The judicial authorities continued to take an interest in the relations between the press and former President Alberto Fujimori - still in Japan - and his eminence grise, Vladimiro Montesinos. The two men were accused in November of authorising the use of torture in May 2000 on press informant Fabián Salazar, who had videos that compromised the government. Montesinos, who was in a Lima prison, was given a five-year jail term in June for "influence trafficking." He had struck a deal with a TV station owner in 1999 whereby a prosecution against the owner was dropped in exchange for the dismissal of a journalist critical of the government.
Broadcasting has still not been cleaned up after the Fujimori years, when TV company owners were corrupted. Those now being prosecuted have transferred their shares to family members. The present government is meanwhile suspected of wanting to use the inevitable overhaul of broadcasting to get control of the media. 2003 was marked by a prolonged duel for control of Panamericana TV between the son of former chief executive Ernesto Schutz and Genaro Delgado Parker, a minority shareholder thought to have government backing. One court ruling favoured the first, another one favoured the second, giving rise to pitched battles for control of the TV company’s buildings.
A bill was submitted to congress at the end of November under which radio and TV stations found to have "lost their news independence" could be stripped of their licences. Rosa María Alfaro, the head of the organisation that drafted the bill, said licences would be withdrawn "only when actual corruption was proved, and not because of difference about views expressed." But a distrustful Enrique Zileri of the Peruvian Press Council said this "lends itself to all kinds of interpretation."
New information on a journalist killed before 2003
It was reported on 20 October 2003 that the prosecutor’s office in Huanta (200 km southeast of Lima) had reopened the investigation into the death of Hugo Bustíos Saavedra, a correspondent for the magazine Caretas who was killed by members of the armed forces on the road to Erapata on 24 November 1988 while investigating an attack by Shining Path guerrillas. Although there were several witnesses for the prosecution, those responsible for the murder were cleared by military judicial procedure and the case was closed.
Two journalists detained
Marco Antonio Vásquez and Diego Fernández Stoll of the programme "La ventana indiscreta" (Indiscreet Window) on the TV station Frecuencia Latina were detained for three hours on 6 September 2003 on the orders of a judge. They had just filmed part of attorney-general Nelly Calderón Navarro’s birthday party, to which they had been invited and which was held in a public place. As they left, a group of judges stopped them and forced them to hand over their videotapes.
15 journalists physically attacked
Civil Construction Federation (FCC) workers who were on strike attacked several journalists who had come to cover their demonstration on 29 January 2003 as the strikers headed towards Lima’s old town, from which they were banned. Santiago Bardo of the daily Perú 21, Luis Talledo of the weekly Expreso and Isabel Rengifo of América Televisión were hit and pushed out of the way.
Juan Espinoza Linares of Radio Studio 99 in the northern city of Chimbote was leaving the station on 6 February when an unidentified assailant struck him several times in the face and then fled. Espinoza’s colleagues took him to hospital where he underwent an operation to his injured nose. He said he had no idea why he was attacked.
Journalist Edgar Cáceres Flor was attacked as he left the studios of Canal 13 television in Huaraz (in the northern department of Ancash) on 1 April. His assailant was Milton Rodríguez Soto, who had previously threatened him when he investigated alleged irregularities in the municipal government of Independencia, where Rodríguez’s wife works. Rodríguez turned himself to the police and was released, despite the seriousness of the injuries sustained by Cáceres.
Armando Castro Méndez, a photographer with the daily La Industria in Trujillo (in the northern department of La Libertad), was attacked on 6 May as he was taking photos of violence by striking transport workers against the passengers of a bus. One striker grabbed his camera while two others held him. Reporter Pier Barakat and the driver intervened to prevent his camera being badly damaged. The strikers then ordered them to leave.
Gustavo Medina Salvador, a cameraman with Panamerica Televisión, was attacked by eight members of the municipal police on 17 May in Huaraz (in Ancash department) as he was covering incidents that took place during an event for tourists. His camera was damaged beyond repair.
Doris Cornejo, a correspondent for the cable TV channel Canal N, and her cameraman, Iván Bravo Ballón, were attacked in the southeastern city of Puno on 30 May while covering a demonstration against the declaration of a state of siege and the death of a student during rioting. Cornejo told the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) they were attacked by demonstrators who mistook them for reporters with the state-owned Televisión Nacional del Perú, which they thought was biased.
Renato Fernández, a cameraman with the cable TV channel Canal N, was badly beaten by a policemen on 24 September in La Oroya (in the central department of Junin) while he and reporter Andy Ortiz were covering the dispersal by police of a demonstration against a mining company’s decision to fire more than 350 workers.
Sharon Stevenson, a stringer for CNN, Newsweek and Voice of America, was found unconscious near her car in a working-class district of Peru on 10 December. She bore the marks of attempted strangulation, blows to her body, and a severe blow to her head that caused partial amnesia. She had left her home in the afternoon to meet a police colonel who was supposed to give her a tool used to fumigate coca crops. For the past 10 years, Stevenson has been investigating the suspected use of a dangerous fungus in coca eradication programmes in Peru. Its use has always been denied by the Peruvian authorities and the US government, which supports the programmes.
Journalists from several media were attacked on 30 December outside the labour ministry where they had gone seeking labour minister Jesús Alvarado’s response to allegations that he used his influence to get a dozen relatives hired by the ministry and other state entities. The journalists were insulted and hit by activists from the Perú Possible party, who had gone to give Alvarado their support and who were surrounding him protectively. The journalists said the police did nothing to prevent the violence except set off teargas, which just added to the confusion. President Toledo condemned the attacks.
Four journalists threatened
The mother of journalist Lucho Mamani Huillca of Radio Sicuani in Sicuani, the capital of Canchis province (in the southeastern department of Cusco), received an anonymous phone call at home on 3 July 2003 warning that her son "should be careful." Mamani had already been threatened and attacked by the mayor of Canchis in February after the station criticised his administration.
Gluder Valdez Manrique, another journalist with Radio Sicuani, received an anonymous threatening phone call on 20 July, minutes before the start of a programme in which he had planned to criticise the mayor about the building of a new hospital. According to the National Human Rights Coordination, Andrés Béjar Torreblanca and Franlin Béjar Miranda of Radio Constelación, another station in Sicuani, received threats on 26 May after reporting that a transmitter had been stolen from the station. They suspected that the threats came from the mayor’s brother, who was in charge of press relations.
Harassment and obstruction
Henry Pinedo Rojas of Radio Anaconda in Nauda (in the Amazonian department of Loreto) was threatened with prosecution by police captain Arturo Parra Tello on 20 January 2003 after Pinedo criticised the police for failing to thoroughly investigate recent suicides by five students. As he was passing in front of the police station, the captain called him inside and warned him to stop questioning the performance of the police.
"Ventana Indiscreta" (Indiscreet Window), a programme on the independent TV station Frecuencia Latina, on 14 September revealed two internal reports by the Consejo Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI), a government intelligence agency, showing the CNI was spying on journalists. The first, entitled "Enrique 2003," referred to a plan to identify government employees who were leaking confidential information about senior CNI officials. It contained personal details about members of the Ventana Indiscreta editorial team, headed by Enrique Flor Zappler. The second report, entitled "Enrique II," detailed the CNI’s surveillance of Flor Zappler. In an interview for the daily El Comercio on 15 September, CNI chairman Alfonso Panizo Zariquiey acknowledged the authenticity of the reports. He resigned two days later.
César Hildebrandt, the director of the programme "En la Boca del Lobo" (In the Wolf’s Mouth) on the TV station Frecuencia Latina, reported on 21 October that Baruch Ivcher Bronstein, the station’s main shareholder, and several of its journalists were the target of surveillance by the intelligence services. He based his claim on an alleged intelligence agency report referring to planned "special operations" to identify the contacts of "the majority shareholder and certain journalists of Frecuencia Latina" within the security forces and parliament. The intelligence services did not confirm the report’s authenticity.
Magaly Medina, the presenter of "Magaly TV" on Andina de Televisión-Canal 9, and Ney Guerrero, the programme’s producer, were given suspended sentences of four years in prison on 23 October for violating the privacy of model Monica Adaro. They were also ordered to pay her 50,000 soles (about 12,500 euros) in damages. The programme showed a sexual encounter between Adaro and an unidentified man and said it was prostitution because she was paid. The judge ruled that the report had not required screening the footage of the sexual activity. To avoid imprisonment, Medina and Guerrero had to notify the judicial authorities whenever they travelled abroad or moved home.
Néstor Puicón Ramos, producer of the news programme "Foro Radial" on Radio Señorial in the city of Huancayo (east of Lima), was filmed by two men in a car as he entered his home on 30 October. Alerted by a neighbour, he went to speak to them, but they fled. He nonetheless recognised one of them as an employee of parliamentarian Pedro Morales Mansilla. Puicón had been covering the different prosecutions initiated against Morales for administrative irregularities when mayor of Huancayo. Puicón’s daughter had been kidnapped in July and then released after 48 hours without any ransom request or other demands being made.
Rosa María Palacios, producer and presenter of the programme "Tribuna Libre" on cable TV channel Canal 6, reported on 11 November that her phone had been tapped. She said she had discovered a few days earlier that a listening device had been attached to her personal phone line but she did not say who she thought was responsible. Phone tapping was common under President Fujimori. Former military officers and retired intelligence agents still have the know-how and equipment and are said to offer their services to businesses and individuals.
Juan Carlos Tafur Rivera, the editor of the daily Correo, was about to leave on a flight to the United States on 22 November when he was told he had been banned from leaving the country because of a libel suit brought against him by a Lima judge over an 18 July article. The ban was lifted five days later.