Peruvian TV Station At Risk

Sunday, September 14, 1997

Independent Journalism in Peru at Risk
The head of a popular TV station is under fire after airing news stories which expose wrongdoing in the government and military

Update Notice
There have been new developments in this case since it was orignally reported. Click here to access the recent alerts on this situation distributed by the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX).

With a television station at risk of a military siege and his very citizenship stripped away by the government, Baruch Ivcher (picture below) has made some powerful enemies.

Image of Baruch Ivcher The story can be traced back to at least September 1996 when Ivcher's television station, Frecuencia Latina Canal 2, broadcast shocking conversations between Peruvian military officers and powerful drug traffickers. To many, what was just as astounding as the details of military corruption was that journalists at Canal 2 had the courage to take on the dangerous forces of drug traffickers and their powerful allies in the military.

Ivcher immediately began receiving death threats. Given the long history of human rights violations by the state and its military arm against journalists in Peru, few would have faulted Ivcher and Canal 2 reporters for ignoring future stories of military illegality.

But Canal 2 carried on. In April 1997, for example, it revealed the dramatic case of intelligence agent Leonor la Rosa who was reportedly tortured by her own colleagues, reported on the murder of a junior military official, and on the millions received from unknown sources by Vladimiro Montesinos, the controversial and powerful aid on intelligence matters to President Alberto Fujimori.

The government and the military responded dramatically.

In May, the joint command of Peru's armed forces accused Ivcher of "harming the prestige and image" of the military and of "twisting facts and spreading information from an ill-intentioned position." According to Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS), a Peruvian freedom of expression organization, these accusations were made without offering concrete evidence and they did not lead to any criminal or civil charges. Given the military's past record on human rights abuses and the rarity of a joint command public relations attack on a private citizen, many observers interpreted this move to have menacing implications. Fearing for his safety, Ivcher fled to the U.S.A. in June. But the station's journalists continued to broadcast hard-hitting reports. And then, in an action last July which sparked headlines all over the world, Fujimori's government annulled Ivcher's very citizenship. The decision, announced by the National Police, was allegedly based on the Immigration and Citizenship department's claim that it does not have any of the documents which would have been necessary for a proper citizenship application. Ivcher became a Peruvian in 1984 and citizenship is required to own a media outlet. The decision, which was sharply criticised by many observers as a transparent attack on freedom of expression, is under appeal. (Click here for more information.)

Believing the government might use the decision to justify a take-over of Canal 2, thousands of supporters rushed to the station and created a human barricade to protect the station (picture below).

Inside this barricade, journalists frantically prepared for a siege, sleeping at the station and even mounting cameras on the roof in case of a helicopter assault. At present, the station is still open and airing incisive pieces, perhaps because of this ground-swell of public support and the widespread coverage by international media.

In a July interview, Ivcher said from Miami that if the government succeeded in silencing Canal 2, no media outlet would be safe. "I am just an easy target that the government is using to send a message to all other television channels and publications in Peru that it will not tolerate free, independent, honest reporting," Ivcher said. "This demonstrates that there are no rights left in Peru and that the only way Fujimori knows how to run his government is with tanks and soldiers."

For its part, Canal 2 has continued to expose alleged government and military corruption. On the same day as the annulation of Ivcher citizenship was announced, the station reported on the tapping of telephone conversations of politicians, business-persons and journalists allegedly done by intelligence operatives. Several of the people who recognized their voices and words condemned the tapping as a violation of their constitutional rights. (Click here for more information.)

Ivcher, still unable to return home, continues to run his beleaguered station by phone. While attempting to maintain the independence of Canal 2 in the face of constant government pressure, Ivcher faced a new threat. In August, a judge used a legislative decree to suspend Ivcher's station ownership rights on a petition brought by the station's two other principal shareholders who own a minority stake in the company. Supporters of Ivcher have alleged that they are acting in collusion with the government. (Click here for more information). The decision has been appealed and the station is still running hard-hitting stories. However, with Ivcher's status as a shareholder in limbo, the other shareholders have administrative control of the station and observers fear they may be able to exert influence on the content of the shows aired.

If the government and military hoped to improve their own popularity among the general public by silencing criticism from Canal 2, it appears their plan has badly misfired. The actions taken against Ivcher and Canal 2 by the government and the military have been condemned by international observers as unacceptable attacks on freedom of expression and press freedom. Even more significantly, Fujimori's government which until recently had been widely supported by the Peruvian public has seen its popularity plummet and part of this decline can be traced directly to their treatment of Ivcher and Canal 2. The attacks against Canal 2 have galvanized support among the citizenry and suggest that the station's investigative journalism and hard-hitting reporting on the government and military has struck a responsive chord among the public.

Nevertheless, the future of Ivcher's citizenship, and the independence of Canal 2 is very much in doubt. The next few months will be crucial as pressure is brought to bear on the government and legal appeals of court decisions made against Ivcher are heard.

Prepared by the CCPJ on 26 August 1997 with files from IPYS and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) Clearing House.

Photo of Baruch Ivcher courtesy of Frecuencia Latina Canal 2

Photo of rally outside Canal 2 courtesy of Caretas magazine

Where can I get more information?

* Alerts from the IFEX Clearing House

* A July 17 1997 article by a leading and independent Peruvian magazine, Caretas (in Spanish).

What can I do to help?

* Write or fax the Peruvian government