By Thomas Burt
Voces del Sur, a network of Latin American organizations dedicated to promoting freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and access to information released its fourth annual Shadow Report. This study monitors the progress that governments in the region are making toward reaching United Nations Sustainable Development Goal indicator 16.10.1, focusing on safety of journalists and public access to information. This fourth iteration of the report, in addition to providing valuable insights as to the state of these fundamental freedoms in Latin America, allows for comparisons to years prior and a broader view of the regional trends regarding these critical rights.
The Shadow Report continues to employ its innovative regional methodology, in which member organizations document “alerts” of aggressions committed against freedom of expression, press freedom, and access to information. These instances are documented through a multi-layered process, where gathered data is aligned with network-wide, common Voces del Sur indicators. This information is analyzed, trends and developments are discerned, and findings are prepared for reporting. This methodology captures both national nuances, while also providing a continent-wide, regional picture. While this methodology contained 12 common indicators in previous studies, the 2021 Shadow Report has introduced a cross-cutting gender perspective indicator that accounts for discrimination or violence that is motivated by a person’s gender or sexual orientation. This novel indicator adds complexity and depth to Voces del Sur’s monitoring practices, and critical information regarding the endemic gender-based violence facing journalists and media professionals in Latin America.
The development process of this report is a testament to the collaborative, cross-country relationships that the Voces del Sur network was created to foster. Its composition is the result of a joint effort between 14 member organizations from across Latin America. In addition to sharing best practices, providing mutual support, and exchanging valuable experiences, the civil society member groups of Voces del Sur have worked together to shed light on the dangers faced daily by reporters throughout the region, as well as the state of access to information and transparency. The combined strength of these partner organizations offers a platform through which a common voice can emerge in defense of freedom of expression. The growing number of partner groups is a promising trend for the future of this initiative.
In particular, the 2021 Shadow Report points to several alarming trends that should raise the attention of regional governments, civil society, and international organizations. Not only does violence remain the principal threat against the media in Latin America, but it continues to plague freedom of expression in its most devastating form: homicide. The region’s journalists are yet murdered at an alarming rate, a troublesome trend that has only been met with impunity and indifference on behalf of governments in the hemisphere. Moreover, most aggressions committed against reporters in Latin America continue to occur at the hands of the state. Not only are public authorities failing to provide guarantees for the safe practice of independent journalism but are acting as the main offenders against this critical institution. Through its new, gender-perspective indicator, the 2021 Shadow Report also exposes how identity factors and intersections make for differentiated violence against victims. Women and LGBTQI+ reporters experience aggressions, and the consequences of these aggressions, in an entirely different way than their male counterparts. The prevalence of sexual violence and stigmatizing speech, as well as discrimination within the media itself, continues to hamper the work of these media professionals. Overall, the 2021 Shadow Report paints a grim picture of the SDG 16.10.01 in the region, yet it is a necessary resource for efforts to improve the state of this critical pursuit.
By scrutinizing the performance of regional governments in terms of their progress toward SDG 16.10.01, this Shadow Report puts forth an objective evaluation that can be used to hold states across Latin America accountable for their fulfillment of this duty. This data-driven report can be used by civil society and international organizations to hold administrations to task, based on their own commitment to these goals, and collaborate with public authorities to improve the state of freedom of expression in the region.
The continued and flourishing collaboration within the Voces del Sur network demonstrates how civil society can apply critical pressure to address regional challenges. As the network continues to expand, its partners remain committed to the essential task of defending freedom of expression in Latin America. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) is proud to support the Voces del Sur network and shares the belief that a free and independent press is a cornerstone of democracy, key to promoting the open exchange of ideas and keeping government accountable to an informed citizenry.
Thomas Burt is a Program Coordinator with PADF’s Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights team.
Informe Sombra 2021 (Spanish)