Elizabeth Ballantine

Elizabeth Ballantine address to IAPA October 22, 2013 Denver, Colorado Ladies and Gentlemen, journalists, members of the Inter American Press Associations, guests and friends. It is special honor for me to achieve this podium in the wake of many legendary leaders of the newspaper industry on freedom of the press. My great grandfather purchased an ailing newspaper in the state of Iowa in 1907. The Des Moines Register later became a leading U.S. newspaper, at one stage second only to The New York Times in wining Pulitzer prizes, mostly for its internationalist agricultural coverage. My parents purchased two small newspapers in Durango in 1952. We grew up in the shadow of larger city newspapers but were immersed in the same topics in a small town of 10,000 people. My brother Richard, who is here today with his wife and two sons, expanded the business successfully in our generation, winning countless Colorado, regional and one national journalism award that we are especially proud of, the Sigma Delta Chi award for public service.  We believe the freedom of the press is vital to our democracy. We hope to live up to those ideals. Jim and Susan McClatchy first introduced me and my siblings to IAPA. We were aware of the rising Hispanic demographic in Colorado and familiar with the Spanish heritage of the southwestern United States.  Many Hispanic publishers in this room who we met had fought for free speech principles at great personal expense. The Miró Quesada, the Mitre, the Kraiselbrud. And the Americans who supported their ideals, Edward and Karen Seaton, Scott and Kathryn Schurz, Bob Cox, Jack Fuller, Bob Rivard.  Milton Coleman, Diana Daniels (the list goes on) who welcomed and inspired me with their passion and experience. I am honored to participate in such distinguished company and happy to welcome you to Denver and the State of Colorado. We have heard over the last days about the unprecedented threats to press freedoms in our hemisphere, and what IAPA is doing to meet these challenges. Our organization is active, aggressive and making progress in defending our members against increasing government hostility to our mission of serving the public’s right to know. In the United States,  on the national level we have traditionally enjoyed an unfettered freedom to publish what we want, when we want. During the past half century, we have benefited from U.S. Supreme Court decisions that bolstered our protections against libel, invasion of privacy and prior restraint. Today, there is a very high barrier for anyone who brings a libel claim. Indeed, there have been no major libel judgments in recent memory. Invasion of privacy is a trickier issue, but the media enjoy significant safeguards against lawsuits in that area. And the U.S. Supreme Court has all but declared the government can’t prevent the media from publishing what they know.  As the late Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black famously observed: The First Amendment says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of the press, and to me, no law means no law. But, that was before nine-eleven. Today, the greatest threat to press freedom in the United States is centered on the conflict between the media and government as we seek to report new government surveillance programs intended to root out terrorist plots and to report on anti-terror missions conducted by U.S. military and civilian agencies at home and abroad.  We heard the AP story from Gary Pruitt.  And yesterday an important presentation from Glenn Greenwald, a U.S. citizen on the run in Brazil, who is afraid to return to the U.S. During the Obama administration, we have seen more Justice Department investigations of journalists than all previous administrations combined. Government investigators have subpoenaed our work product, used secret National Security Letters to obtain our phone records without giving us a chance to challenge their action, threatened to jail our reporters for protecting sources and even accused us of criminal action in disclosing what the government wants to keep secret. These government actions against the media are unprecedented in the United States. We heard earlier in this convention from Gary Pruitt, president of the Associated Press, who has called the government's secret seizure of two months of AP reporters' phone records "unconstitutional." Pruitt says it has already had a chilling effect on reporting because sources are more reluctant to talk to reporters for fear of government retribution. In May, IAPA weighed in on this controversy, saying the government’s seizure of the phone records was quote, a serious affront to freedom of information and a violation of the right to keep confidential sources secret, unquote.  We have seen here in Denver a rich and important discussion on this topic. This conversation must continue in the U.S. as we partner with other organization, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, and will remain a major focus this year. But First Amendment issues are not just at the national level. Our smaller community newspapers must confront a patchwork of state and local laws that frequently involve conflicts over closed meetings and closed records.  Sometimes this in not intentional, as government officials are not even aware of important open-record and open-meeting laws.  We must constantly educate them by asserting our legal rights. Here in Colorado, news organizations such as The Associated Press, the Denver Post and the local television stations went into court earlier this month to keep open the court file for the Aurora theater shooting case. Attorneys for James Holmes have sought to lock up much of the evidence that would help the public understand the case. This highlights two related matters -- news organizations at the local and state level have to team up to fight many of these efforts. And eternal vigilance against government secrecy is a basic fact of life for editors, bureau chiefs and news directors in all 50 states. Another example comes from Helena, Montana, where Associated Press staffers faced multiple death threats from gun rights advocates this summer after the news organization asked for a list of concealed gun permit holders and the state attorney general denied the request.  That happened despite the list clearly meeting the requirements of a public document under Montana law.  We are regular visitors to the courts and thankfully the law mainly supports our request, but politicians delay and obfuscate and we must remain determined and focused. Let’s turn back to Latin America. Here are some observations by our freedom of the press chair, Claudio Paolillo.  Violence against journalists in countries like Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Colombia,  Guatemala and Peru is on the rise. Drug cartels are very active in these and other countries and journalists are paying a high toll. Violence comes along with impunity. Governments are unable to prosecute criminals and to put them in jail. More than 90% of murders of journalists are not solved.  The combination of violence and impunity fosters totally understandable self-censorship in newsrooms. The public is the final victim. Second, we have the "democratic dictatorships". That is an obvious contradiction that occurs when governments elected by the people in free and fair elections start to destroy democracy from inside once they are in power. They ignore separation of powers, justice independence and, of course, freedom of the press. They attack the press as "political opposition" and use all government means to erode its credibility and its economic sustainability. They pass laws and even entire constitutions to attack the press on behalf of  "truth", "fairness" and "accuracy, but they remain in control because they are the ones who decide what is "truth", what is "fair" and what is "accurate". As we have heard during this conference, the governments of Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador are the worst. In Cuba we have the old-fashioned category of  “plain dictatorship.” The Inter American Press Association has achieved a legendary level of leadership on these issues. As it now faces the toll of the economic disruption of legacy media companies in the U.S. and Canada, financial support must shift to Latin American donors. The bitter freedom of press issues and battle remain unchanging, but the mean of confronting them must be transformed. My predecessors, Milton Coleman and Jaime Mantilla, have created a committee to reinvent IAPA, to preserve its convening power in the Americas and redeploy its mission in the wake of the loss of historical financial support. But that line of funding has now ending. President Mantilla, with the help from Miguel Otero, has launched a program to finance IAPA through the sale of donated advertising pages, an optimistic and visionary program that is still untested. The IAPA must face challenges of a new economic and social environment, a younger generation that consumes information differently, and competition from other visionary and well funded organizations. In my year as president, a top priority is to continue work on this reinvention. The Strategic Planning Committee will continue under the able leadership of María Elvira Domínguez of  Colombia, co-chaired by Fernán Saguier of Argentina, and members including Jorge Canahuati Larach, of Honduras, Gustavo Mohme, of Peru, Claudio Paolillo of Uruquay, Milton Coleman, Edward Seaton and Pierre Manigault of the U.S. We will not neglect the core values that bring us all together. The Freedom of Press and Information Committee will continue its dynamic work under the leadership of Claudio Paolillo, vice chairs Roberto Rock of Mexico and Fernán Molinos of Panama. Bruce Sanford, a distinguished U.S. First Amendment lawyer, will join as third vice chair, highlighting the importance of the national security and press problems in the U.S. Jorge Canahuati Larach will become the chair of the Executive Committee, and Juan Francisco Ealy Ortiz of Mexico remains as chair of the Impunity Committee. The admirable work of the Legal Committee will continue under Asdrúbal Aguiar of Venezuela, and Alberto Cardenas of the U.S. The New Members Committee will start work under the new leadership of Ed McCullough, executive at the Associated Press and a veteran Latin America reporter. We hope that Ed’s enthusiasm and extensive contacts will increase our members throughout the Americas. Other committees such as fundraising and finance will continue their contribution. I hope that IAPA representatives from Latin America may return to Colorado to participate in the state’s Biennial of the Americas, an international gathering of intellectuals, businessmen and artists from the Americas every two years.  We have seen the visible evidence of the rising Hispanic tide here in the US, as demonstrated yesterday by Ken Salazar and Joe Garcia yesterday.  We must reach out to this Latin diaspora which is poised to affect U.S. politics and traditions, and which must itself begin to shoulder the mantle of protection of Press Freedom in the Americas. In conclusion, I want to thank Julio Muñoz, Ricardo Trotti and the IAPA staff, the Host Committee, a committed group of sponsors, Visit and World Denver, GBSM, for your hard work and experienced knowledge that made Denver a success. I look forward to reconvening in Barbados, and anticipate a productive year ahead. Thank you.