Throughout 2001, revelations grew about the methods former President Alberto Fujimori used to control the media during his 10-year rule (1990-2000). They focused on the so-called "vladivideos" secretly made by the former head of the secret police (Servicio de Inteligencia Nacional - SIN), Vladimiro Montesinos, whenever he handed over money to politicians or businessmen. Some of the videos show heads of TV stations being bribed with large sums of money to support Fujimori’s candidacy in the presidential elections of spring of 2000. Six of them were accused in 2001 of corruption, influence-peddling or embezzling public funds. They included brothers Samuel and Mendel Winter, who allegedly got $3 million from Montesinos in late 1999 to increase the capital of the Frecuencia Latina TV station and so win control of it from businessman Baruch Ivcher. The secret police chief is also thought to have been allowed to interfere with the content of news programmes after paying out $500,000 a month between November 1999 and April 2000.
The scandal raised the question of what action to take against the TV chiefs who collaborated with the Fujimori regime. When prosecuted, most protected their wealth by passing their shares to family members. President Alejandro Toledo, elected in the spring, said in December that some of the press was "infiltrated by the old regime’s mafia" and announced a commission to review the award of operating licences, notably to the TV stations Panamericana (Canal 5) and América TV (Canal 4). The make-up of the commission, dominated by government appointees, was strongly criticised. The future of Peruvian television is thus in doubt and perhaps even in danger. Changes in control are made more difficult because Peruvian law forbids foreign ownership of the media.
However, the supreme court’s decision on 11 September to acquit Enrique Zileri Gibson, managing editor of the weekly Caretas, signalled a return to normality in the Lima press. Caretas has been sued by Montesinos since 1990 for libel after it ran an article calling him "Rasputin" because of his closeness to Fujimori. Zileri Gibson was sentenced in August 1991 to a year’s suspended prison sentence. Libel suits were a favourite method of Montesinos to exert pressure on journalists.
Most attacks on press freedom in 2001 were in the provinces. Local politicians, government officials and police were mostly responsible for attacks on journalists or for obstructing the work of the media. The fact that two such incidents were perpetrated by supporters of President Toledo raised concern.
A journalist jailed
Ivan Cubas Coronado, of the radio station La Caribeña, in the northwestern city of Trujillo, was freed from prison on 1 February 2001 after the supreme court in Lima overturned on technicalities his 23 August 2000 one-year sentence for libel, which he began serving in the El Milagro prison in Trujillo in September 2000. On the air he had vehemently criticised a Trujillo high court official, Demetrio Vera.
Seven journalists attacked
Raúl Herrera Soria, correspondent of Panamericana Televisión, and Nicolás Prokopiu, of Radio Atlántida, were attacked and called Fujimori supporters by members of the Loreto Patriotic Front in the northeastern city of Iquitos on 4 January 2001. The two journalists had just covered a press conference held by Lourdes Flores, the Christian Popular Party (PPC) candidate in the presidential elections. The attackers were protesting against a peace treaty between Peru and Ecuador signed by the then President Fujimori and backed by Flores. A few weeks earlier, the same group appeared to have been responsible for the dismissal of Jaime Vásquez, Luis Barbarán Toullier, Marco Antonio Vásquez and Isabel Ruiz de Vásquez from the cable TV station Canal 6, after threatening to destroy the station’s equipment. The five journalists had defended the Fujimori regime.
Clemente Yatas Ayala, of Frecuencia Popular Radio, in the eastern town of Rioja, was physically attacked on 13 April by Ney Delgado Zúñiga, former governor of San Martín province, who he had accused on the air of embezzlement.
Luis Samuel Zevallos Hidalgo, of the radio station La Oroya, in the town of La Oroya (Yauli province), was beaten up by four strangers on 19 April as he was on his way home. He had broadcast a secret tape of a conversation in which Javier Izquierdo Yantas, a municipal official in the town of Yauli, demanded a bribe of 5,000 soles (1,550 euros) from the representative of a social programme. Jacinto Manuel Figueroa Yauri, the head of the radio station, accused the official and the town’s mayor, Georgina Nestarres Quintanilla, of being behind the attack.
Hugo Ferreyra, a journalist with the radio station Grecia Star, in the town of Nazca (south of Lima), and Arnaldo Ríos, one of the station’s guests, were attacked and threatened on 12 August by supporters of President Toledo’s Perú Posible party who broke into the station while the two men were criticising on the air the activities of the party’s leaders in Nazca. After being refused a right of reply by the radio, the militants attacked Ferreyra and Ríos and destroyed equipment.
Juan Carlos Hidalgo Sayán, a cameraman with the cable TV station Canal N, was attacked by police on 29 October while filming an eviction in the El Rímac district of Lima. His camera was briefly confiscated.
Elizabeth Huamán Perales, correspondent of América Televisión in Huancayo, was beaten by supporters of the ruling Perú Posible party on 17 December. During a clash between two rival factions of the party, she was attacked, thrown to the ground and her camera seized. She lodged a complaint against the attackers.
Pressure and obstruction
Nicolás Lúcar, producer of the "Tiempo Nuevo" programme on América Televisión, was accused on 30 January 2001 by the then president, Valentin Paniagua, of insulting him. On 28 January, Lúcar had broadcast an interview with an aide of former secret police chief Vladimiro Montesinos who accused Paniagua of having received money from Montesinos for his campaign in the spring 2000 parliamentary elections. The interview caused an uproar among viewers, who suspected Lúcar, a prominent journalist during Fujimori’s rule, of wanting to destabilise the government. José Enrique Crousillat, managing editor of América Televisión, said on 31 January he had accepted Lúcar’s resignation and announced a reorganisation of the station, which had backed the Fujimori regime. Lúcar left the country for Costa Rica the same day, saying he did not feel safe in Peru, but he returned a few months later. In December, demonstrators angry at his role under Fujimori gathered in front of the TV station to protest against his return to the air.
Supporters of the Loreto Patriotic Front attacked the premises of the radio station La Karibeña, in the northeastern city of Iquitos, twice in late February, demanding that it stop displaying election posters of Lourdes Flores, the Christian Popular Party’s presidential candidate. When this was refused, they threw stones at the building and painted it black. Teddy Morales Elescano, a technician at the station, was threatened with death.
Two strangers visited the offices of the lawyer of Herbert Mujica Rojas, of the daily paper Liberación, twice on 24 April and asked the staff if the journalist worked on the paper and how to contact him. The next day, a man named Carlos Castro called the lawyer’s office and demanded to speak to Mujica Rojas, who had written several articles about corruption in former President Fujimori’s government, including one accusing former industry minister Victor Joy Way of abuses in contracts with China.
Former colonel Yldorfo Cueva Retuerto, sued three journalists for defamation on 8 May. They were Jesús Alfonso Castiglione Mendoza, of the weekly Caretas, Martín Gómez Arquiño, of Radio Alpamayo, in the Ancash region (north of Lima), and Hugo Gonzáles Henostroza, correspondent in Huaraz (north of Lima) of the daily Liberación. The former officer asked for a million soles (320,000 euros) in damages from the journalists, who a month earlier had strongly attacked Cueva Retuerto’s appointment as regional police commander, recalling his involvement in false accusations of terrorism against journalists in 1993 when he was regional head of the anti-terrorism command. In an open letter published in Caretas, Castiglione Mendoza had accused him of having personally supervised his torture and being responsible for him spending more than three years in prison. Following these revelations, Cueva Retuerto was dismissed from his new job on 20 April by the government of President Paniagua. A judge in Huaraz dismissed the suit against the three journalists on 17 August, saying they had simply done their job of informing the public and that the evidence presented by Cueva Retuerto was insufficient to disprove the evidence presented by the journalists.