Speaking at IPI’s 2012 World Congress in Trinidad, Julio Munoz, executive director of the Miami-based Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), said a free press is synonymous with free expression.

During a panel discussion on “The State of the State Owned: A Look at the Role of State-Owned Media in Latin America, the Caribbean and elsewhere”, Munoz said: “A free press is synonymous with free expression … A free society cannot exist without freedom of the press. Every human being has a right to freedom of the press.”

He cited the example of Venezuela where President Hugo Chavez controls the media and Argentina where there has been a crackdown on media-related gadgets. At the same time, he reminded “good media” to strive for accuracy, balance and integrity.

He also cited Britain, with its public policy campaign, as a country in which the press was being encouraged. He also noted that when given a choice people choose a newspaper with a high level of credibility.

He paid kudos to T&T journalism doyen Ken Gordon for his sterling contribution to the development of the media and the promotion of democracy.

The panellists sought to examine the impact of media freedom on natural disasters and the methods journalists could employ to circumvent censorship.

Among those on the panel were Poonam Dabas, principal correspondent, Doordarshan News, India, and Attila Mong, journalism consultant, Mertek Media Monitor, a Hungarian editor.

Relying upon her 32 years experience in journalism, Dabas reminded the gathering that even the late Mahatma Ghandi was a journalist. She boasted the principles of India’s press continued upon the foundation laid by him.

“The Indian media is largely fair and balanced,” she asserted. “The challenges are new technology and the intolerance of the political class. They would like the state media to be used for their personal gains.”

Mong said that democracy was backsliding in Hungary even though the country shook off dictatorship 22 years ago. The situation was a cause for concern, he added.

“A country can backslide when civil society is weak,” he warned, adding that one of the tactics the government was using to impose its will was regulating the Internet which it said was “too free”.

He added: “The law has turned the public media into a propaganda machine. It partly killed journalism.”