By Bill Cormier, Associated Press
GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) Hemisphere opened the meeting of the region's leading press group on Sunday by denouncing unsolved journalist slayings and criticizing the erosion of press freedom.
Cuban guidelines for foreign correspondents, a bid by Venezuela to impose an ethics code on reporters and the Jan. 25 killing of an Argentine photojournalist dominated discussion at Sunday's gathering of the Inter American Press Association.
Bartolome Mitre, publisher of Argentina's daily La Nacion, told some 500 publishers and editors gathered for the meeting that journalists in his country had been targeted by some 30 attacks or threats.
The killing of Jose Luis Cabezas, a photographer who was found shot and burned in an Argentine resort while probing suspected government corruption, caused an international outcry.
Despite pressure by the Miami-based IAPA, and public protests in Argentina, Mitre said Sunday that there has been no substantive progress toward bringing Cabezas' killers to justice.
The failure to arrest the killers and the unprecedented number of attacks or threats against journalists, "have wounded the full exercise of press freedom in Argentina,'' Mitre said.
In addition to Cabezas, ten journalists three in Mexico, two in Guatemala and one in El Salvador killed between March and October, said Danilo Arbilla, head of the IAPA's Freedom of the Press Committee.
"The numbers speak for themselves,'' said Arbilla, editor of the Uruguayan weekly Busqueda.
"Because of the events of recent months and the threats that hang over a free press in the immediate future, we find ourselves, lamentably, before a difficult task,'' he said.
Arbillo singled out Mexico as a country in the region where press freedom is in particular jeopardy, saying at last four journalists were abducted, three threatened with death and 20 assaulted in the past six months.
President Ernesto Zedillo earlier promised an IAPA delegation in Mexico City that the attacks would be investigated, a promise he was expected to reiterate in a speech to the full assembly on Tuesday.
On a recent visit to France, Zedillo was harshly criticized by European human rights groups for what they called his failure to defend press freedom in Mexico.
Concern over human rights in Mexico has grown following attacks on at least five journalists investigating the Sept. 8 shooting deaths or disappearances of six men from a Mexico City slum. The victims were last were last seen in police custody.
Arbilla also criticized attempts by Venezuelan President Rafael Caldera to impose an ethics code on that nation's press calling the move a bid to confuse Venezuelans about a press devoted to the truth.
"We must confront this initiative and make our governments and nations see the danger that this idea poses for democracy'' in the region, he said.
"Surely his idea of truthful information would receive the support of Fidel Castro,'' said Arbilla, noting Cuba government's recently announced conduct code for foreign journalists.
Free press advocates have criticized the code, which demands that foreign correspondents work "with objectivity .. in accordance with the norms and regulations'' of Cuba.
Several panelists called for a free and independent press in Cuba, where numerous journalists have been arrested trying to report independently of state-controlled media.
Voicing concern about the state of press freedom elsewhere in the Caribbean, IAPA announced Sunday it would send a delegation to Puerto Rico to investigate alleged government retaliation against the newspaper El Nuevo Dia. A date for the mission was not immediately announced.
El Nuevo Dia representatives say that the Puerto Rican government cancelled a paid advertisement in the paper on April 14, shortly after it published investigative reports about alleged irregularities in tax payments by government telephone workers.
The government has said that its withdrawal of the advertisement was part of a "marketing strategy'' that had nothing to do with El Nuevo Dia's stories.
Editors and publishers at Sunday's meeting said the threats against press freedom are among the scourges yet to be eradicated in the region after the end to an era of dictatorships and the blossoming of democracy and free trade.
The IAPA meeting continues through Wednesday.
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