Facebook Twitter



In English it's the Inter American Press Association, or IAPA. In Spanish it's Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, or SIP.

But even when translated, IAPA means different things to different people.To some it means an organization that does not hesitate to confront dictators of the left or right as it courageously defends press freedom, a group that has saved the life of more than one journalist and kept more than one threatened newspaper from being closed.

To others it means an association of rich, right-wing publishers of big newspapers who meet in swank hotels while the Latin members' employees can't survive on their salaries and little papers can't afford to participate.

This year the association has hired a consultant to survey members and non-members to find out in more detail how IAPA is viewed and what can be done to make it more effective.

Consultant Samuel B. Shapiro, who is directing the survey, said initial results confirm that IAPA is seen too much as a group for publishers and not working journalists.

The problem with that, he said, is that to convince Latin dictators to treat the press right, IAPA must get stories about abuses published in the U.S. press, and it's the reporters and editors, not the publishers, who make those daily decisions about what runs.

As for the accusation that IAPA is right-wing, Shapiro said that when he reviewed the association's records, it became clear that "the bent of the early days was of a highly conservative nature. I assume that there's been change on that score." But he said the old perception persists among people who are not active members.

Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a liberal research group based in Washington, D.C., told the Deseret News that IAPA tends to be relatively soft on violations by military regimes but tough on violations by leftist regimes, even when the latter are milder.

Wilbur Landrey, chairman of IAPA's Freedom of the Press Committee, disagreed. His committee tries "to let the knife cut both ways," he said.

Association President Ignacio E. Lozano Jr., also denied that IAPA is right-wing. "And we're not all large, millionaire publications," he added, citing as an example his own 85,000-circulation, Spanish-language paper in Los Angeles, La Opinion.

Second Vice President Edward Seaton said the left often accuses IAPA of being pro-right, but when the Executive Committee met in Paraguay four years ago, dictator Alfredo Stroessner papered Asuncion with posters calling the group communist.

Lozano said the association often holds its meetings in a particular country to challenge a government that is abusing its press, and last year it did that in Santiago, Chile, challenging right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet. It is seeking permission to hold its Executive Committee meeting in Havana this January for the same purpose and will hold its spring meeting in Asuncion.

"We're as opposed to Stroessner as we are to Fidel Castro," he said.

Shapiro said he thinks the inaccurate perceptions can be corrected by exposing more people to active IAPA members through seminars for working journalists in Latin America and the United States.

Robert J. Cox, assistant editor of The News and Courier, in Charleston, S.C., is one of those working journalists who stayed away from IAPA during his 10 years as editor of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald in Argentina.

"I had steered clear of it because we were a small newspaper, and I didn't think that we could afford to go to it." He was also put off by the idea of bosses having posh meetings while their reporters, including many of his friends, had to work five and six jobs to make a living.

But when Argentine newspaper editor Jacobo Timer-man disappeared in 1977 during the bloody rule of that country's military dictators, "Out of the blue came two people from the Inter American Press Association" down to Buenos Aires to inquire into the case. One was Seaton; the other, Lozano.

"There was a meeting called of all the editors of newspapers in Buenos Aires and nearby. The attitude of the local newspapers was, `Timerman deserves whatever's happening and to hell with him.' They were astonished that anyone was coming down" to protest, Cox said.

It was then that Cox decided that if IAPA was supposed to be a right-wing group, it had a funny way of showing it.

The Buenos Aires Herald still could not afford to send its editor to the group's meetings, however. It wasn't until Cox left Argentina himself after a death threat on his family and went to South Carolina that his paper could afford to send him.

Since then, he's become active in the organization, serving on its Freedom of the Press Committee.

"I think in some ways the Inter American Press Association, possibly even from myself, got a bit of a bum rap," he said. He especially praised Landrey's impartiality and commitment.

"He says if the organization has any meaning, this is what it has to be about. It has to be about freedom. It can't be about anything else."

Cox said Latin papers belong because they know that even if their governments treat them well today, they may wake up one morning to find their offices surrounded by tanks. When that happens, they want IAPA there to sound the alarm.