Humala, Fujimori promise press freedom if elected

Presidential candidates Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori pledged on Friday to respect a free press in Peru if elected to the country’s highest public office.

During an event organized by the Press and Society Institute (IPYS), Humala said his potential government would respect the regulating role of the media, but added that the press should fill a cultural and educational responsibility, daily El Comercio reported.

“We will give all of our backing to the free exercise of journalism. We don’t want to repeat the bitter experiences of the past, when the press was pressured by political interests,” Humala said.

The left-wing nationalist said he would also look to decentralize the granting of media licenses, which are currently under the control the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, by providing regional governments with a greater role.

Critics of Humala are concerned that he may follow the model of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and the latter’s silencing of independent news organizations.

Humala was a close ally of Chavez in his 2006 presidential campaign, but has tried to distance himself from the Venezuelan president in this campaign with a new image.

Meanwhile, congresswoman Keiko Fujimori also said she would respect a free press and condemned the buying of editorial lines in the 1990s by the administration of her father, imprisoned ex-President Alberto Fujimori.

Of the many cases that emerged following the collapse of Alberto Fujimori’s corruption-riddled administration was that of Jose Enrique Crousillat, the former owner of America Television.

Crousillat and his son, José Francisco, fled to Argentina in 2001 when video tapes recorded in the National Intelligence Service, SIN, proved the wide corruption network that ex-President Fujimori and his spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos had woven to control the media and public opinion. Early in 2006, the Crousillats were extradited to face trial in Lima.

Crousillat was sentenced to eight years in prison and charged a fine of $52 million, convicted of “selling” America Television’s editorial line to the Fujimori government in the 1990s.  Between 1998 and 2000, the Crousillats received a total of $22.6 million for their editorial line, according to statements made by Vladimiro Montesinos during his trial in 2002. Montesinos also said that the decision was President Fujimori’s. 

A similar case was that of the Cable Canal de Noticias channel, CCN, owned by Expreso daily publisher Eduardo Calmell del Solar, which was 75% owned by Vladimiro Montesinos and which President Fujimori recognized in his own trial was financed by money he had channelled through to the SIN.  The prominent figures on the TV programs included Jorge Morelli, Jorge Trelles Montes and Fernan Altuve.  The latter has been elected to Congress for Keiko Fujimori’s Fuerza 2011, and Morelli is one of the key advisors to the party’s congressional group. 

“I condemn the buying of editorial lines during the last years of the 90’s, but I, Keiko Fujimori, am going to absolutely respect press freedom and the editorial opinions in favor or against any person,” Fujimori said during the same IPYS event.

“I will be vigilant that state publicity is never used to influence the editorial lines… or to limit freedom of expression or the right to information,” she added.

Like Humala, Fujimori also promised to review the role of the Transportation and Communications Ministry in the local press. Fujimori said she would plan to create a new, independent organization to take on some of the ministry’s current roles.

Press freedom has not just been an issue of policy during this campaign. Since the first round vote on April 10 that saw Humala and Fujimori advance, several two journalists at local television and radio stations have resigned or allegedly been fired for not supporting the Fujimori candidacy or not providing a favorable slant to the congresswoman in their political coverage.

On April 20, the general producer of cable TV station Canal N, Patricia Montero, and news producer of the station’s De 6 a 9 program, Jose Jara, were fired. According to Montero, both journalists had been pressured by the owners of Canal N –the El Comerico publishing group– to support Fujimori. Canal N has denied the allegations.

In addition, three journalists from radio station Radio Lider resigned this week alleging that they were told to limit their opinions in favor of Fujimori.

Peruvians will vote on June 5 and the new president will assume office on July 28. According to recent opinion polls, Humala is favorite to win, although his lead over Fujimori has decreased.

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