Subtle Censorship Lives On in Latin America

ENSORSHIP in Latin America used to be easy to spot.

Military regimes of the 1960s, `70s, and early `80s simply took over or shut down newspapers and broadcast stations they considered offensive. In the worst cases, reporters were slain.

But with the emergence of democratic governments in the region, media freedom has leaped forward. Though not up to US standards, Latin newspapers are now more vigorously investigating government officials for wrongdoing.

The best-known cases led to the impeachments of the presidents of Brazil and Venezuela.

But government interference has not disappeared. Censorship is just more subtle.

In Venezuela, Congress passed a law in December that requires reporters to join the National Reporters Guild or face jail. Under the law, reporters also must have a university degree.

Lawmakers in Colombia recently approved legislation ordering TV stations to give prominent time to opposing points of view or face fines.

In Mexico last November, the pro-government union with a legal monopoly on sidewalk sales of newspapers boycotted the daily Reforma, hampering its distribution.

More ominously, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says 13 Peruvian reporters are in jail for allegedly violating an anti-terrorist law. Reporters were slain last year in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia.

Still, many people feel there has been marked progress toward freedom of the press.

``Most of the problems are legalistic now, for example, strict definitions of defamation and libel law,'' says Ana Arana of the Committee to Protect Journalists. ``In Latin America, governments think having a free press is interesting, but they don't always accept that it's not always on their side.''

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