Adopted by the Hemisphere
Conference on Free Speech
March 11, 1994
On the threshold of a new millennium, the Americas envision a future rooted in democracy. A political opening has taken hold. Citizens have a heightened awareness of their rights. More than at any time in our history regular elections, governments, parliaments, political parties, labor unions, associations and social groups of every kind reflect the hopes of our people.
In this environment of democratization, several developments engender optimism but also suggest prudence. Institutional crises, inequalities, backwardness, unresolvable frustrations, the search for easy solutions, failure to grasp the nature of democracy and special interest groups constantly threaten the advancements made. They also represent potential hurdles to further progress.
That is why we who share this hemisphere, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, must consolidate the prevailing public freedoms and human rights.
Democratic rule must be embodied in modern institutions that represent and respect the citizenry; it must also guide daily life. Democracy and freedom, inseparably paired, will flourish with strength and stability only if they take root in the men and women of our continent.
Without democracy and freedom, the results are predictable: Individual and social life is stunted, group interaction is curtailed, material progress is distorted, the possibility of change is halted, justice is demeaned and human advancement becomes mere fiction.
Freedom must not be restricted in the quest for any other goal. It stands alone, yet has multiple expressions; it belongs to citizens, not to government.
Because we share this conviction, because we have faith in the creative force of our people and because we are convinced that our principles and goals must be freedom and democracy, we openly support their most forthright and robust manifestation: Freedom of expression and of the press, whatever the medium of communication. The exercise of democracy can neither exist nor be reproduced without these.
We, the signatories of this declaration, represent different backgrounds and dreams. We take pride in the plurality and diversity of our cultures, considering ourselves fortunate that they merge into the one element that nurtures their growth and creativity: Freedom of expression, the driving force and basis of mankind’s fundamental rights.
A free society can thrive only through free expression and the exchange of ideas, the search for and the dissemination of information, the ability to investigate and question, to propound and react, to agree and disagree, to converse and confront, to publish and broadcast. Only by exercising these principles will it be possible to guarantee individuals and groups their right to receive impartial and timely information. Only through open discussion and unfettered information will it be possible to find answers to the great collective problems, to reach consensus, to have development benefit all sectors, to practice social justice and to advance the quest for equality. We therefore vehemently reject assertions which would define freedom and progress, freedom and order, freedom and stability, freedom and justice, freedom and the ability to govern as mutually exclusive values.
Without freedom there can be no true order, stability and justice. And without freedom of expression there can be no freedom. Freedom of expression and the seeking, dissemination and collection of information can be exercised only if freedom of the press exists.
We know that not every statement and item of information can find its way into the media. We know that the existence of press freedom does not automatically guarantee unrestricted freedom of expression. But we also know that a free press favors an environment that nurtures freedom of expression and thereby benefits all other public freedoms.
Without an independent media, assured of the guarantees to operate freely, to make decisions and to act on them fully, freedom of expression cannot be exercised. A free press is synonymous with free expression.
Wherever the media can function unhindered and determine their own direction and manner of serving the public, there is a blossoming of the ability to seek information, to disseminate it without restraints, to question it without fear and to promote the free exchange of ideas and opinions. But wherever freedom of the press is curtailed, for whatever reasons, the other freedoms vanish.
After a period when attempts were made to legitimize government control over news outlets, it is gratifying to be able to work together to defend freedom. Many men and women worldwide join us in this task. But opposition remains widespread. Our continents are no exception. There are still counties whose despotic governments abjure every freedom, particularly those freedoms related to expression. Criminals, terrorists and drug traffickers still threaten, attack and murder journalists.
But that is not the only way to harm a free press and free expression. The temptation to control and regulate has led to decisions that limit the independent action of the media, of journalists and of citizens who wish to seek and disseminate information and opinions.
Politicians who avow their faith in democracy are often intolerant of public criticism. Various social sectors assign to the press nonexistent flaws. Judges with limited vision order journalists to reveal sources that should remain in confidence. Overzealous officials deny citizens access to public information. Even the constitutions of some democratic countries contain elements of press restriction.
While defending a free press and rejecting outside interference, we also champion a press that is responsible and involved, a press aware of the obligations that the practice of freedom entails.
A free press enables societies to resolve their conflicts, promote their well-being and protect their liberty. No law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium.
Because we are fully conscious of this reality and accept it with the deepest conviction, and because of our firm commitment to freedom, we sign this declaration, whose principles follow.
1. No people or society can be free without freedom of expression and of the press. The exercise of this freedom is not something authorities grant, it is an inalienable right of the people.
2. Every person has the right to seek and receive information, express opinions and disseminate them freely. No one may restrict or deny these rights.
3. The authorities must be compelled by law to make available in a timely and reasonable manner the information generated by the public sector. No journalist may be forced to reveal his or her sources of information.
4. Freedom of expression and of the press are severely limited by murder, terrorism, kidnapping, intimidation, the unjust imprisonment of journalists, the destruction of facilities, violence of any kind and impunity for perpetrators. Such acts must be investigated promptly and punished harshly.
5. Prior censorship, restrictions on the circulation of the media or dissemination of their reports, forced publication of information, the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of news, and restrictions on the activities and movements of journalists directly contradict freedom of the press.
6. The media and journalists should neither be discriminated against nor favored because of what they write or say.
7. Tariff and exchange policies, licenses for the importation of paper or news-gathering equipment, the assigning of radio and television frequencies and the granting or withdrawal of government advertising may not be used to reward or punish the media or individual journalists.
8. The membership of journalists in guilds, their affiliation to professional and trade associations and the affiliation of the media with business groups must be strictly voluntary.
9. The credibility of the press is linked to its commitment to truth, to the pursuit of accuracy, fairness and objectivity and to the clear distinction between news and advertising. The attainment of these goals and the respect for ethical and professional values may not be imposed. These are the exclusive responsibility of journalists and the media. In a free society, it is public opinion that rewards or punishes.
10. No news medium nor journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.
The struggle for freedom of expression and of the press is not a one-day task; it is an ongoing commitment. It is fundamental to the survival of democracy and civilization in our hemisphere. Not only is this freedom a bulwark and an antidote against every abuse of authority, it is society's lifeblood. Defending it day upon day is honoring our history and controlling our destiny. To these principles we are committed.