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How to enhance professional collaboration between law enforcement agents and journalists in Latin America?

UNESCO hosted a webinar in the Latin American region to address the relationship between law enforcement agents and journalists, with respect to the maintenance of public order while upholding the fundamental rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

On December 14, 2021, UNESCO held the first regional webinar to address the link between police forces and journalists in Latin America, focusing on the maintenance of public order and the defence of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and access to information, thanks to the support of the Netherlands, through the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC). This activity, which analysed the current situation and shared good practices and lessons learned both in the region and internationally, sought to consolidate a dialogue and promote synergies between these two actors, to benefit society as a whole.

"The solution to the problem of limitations to freedom of expression and violence against journalists is not within the reach of a single institution. What is needed is collective action and a joint effort on the part of the whole society and institutions of each country, and this of course includes law enforcement," said Rosa M. González, UNESCO's Regional Advisor for Communication and Information for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the opening of the event.

Zuliana Lainez Otero, President of the Federation of Journalists of Latin America and the Caribbean (FEPALC), emphasized the need for both sectors to work together.

"We need to create a dialogue and jointly break down the prejudices that exist on both sides. In this sense, this first meeting is fundamental," she concluded.

From Brazil and representing the police, João Mário Nunes de Goes, coordinator of the Press and Community Relations Office of the Civil Police of Paraná (PCPR), stated that the police have "the duty" to defend freedom of expression and contribute to the safety of journalists.

“I believe that the starting point to improve the relationship between journalists and police officers is respect for the human being. Journalists must be aware of the challenges faced by the human being police officer. And at the same time, it is necessary for police officers to understand the needs of the human being journalist. Mutual respect is fundamental to build a good relationship between all'', analysed Nunes de Goes.

Brigadier General Luis Ernesto García Hernández, Head of the Planning Office of the National Police of Colombia, added that any communication strategy in today's hyper-connected world presents great challenges, highlighting that journalists must be the "best allies" of police work.

"An intelligent communication strategy also implies working not only with traditional media, but also with the challenges presented by social networks where communication is different. Police forces must adapt their spokesperson and their strategic work to be able to communicate and also listen to the different sectors of the population and give an accurate response to the underlying requirements,'' García Hernández explained.

Eduardo Bertoni, Representative of the Regional Office for South America at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH), said that it is common to find "levels of tension" between journalists and security forces.

"These tensions do not contribute to strengthening freedom of the press and the work of journalists, nor do they contribute to strengthening the performance of the security forces," he added. In this way, he said, it is necessary to visualize certain challenges related to understanding, communication and analysis and to frame them in a certain context to be contemplated.

The Organization of American States (OAS) was also present through Cristian Taboada, Chief of the Security and Justice Section of the Department of Public Security of the Inter-American Network for Police Development and Professionalization (REDPPOL), who pointed out:

"We understand that freedom of expression is the cornerstone in the consolidation of a democratic society and, consequently, we are certain that bringing the police closer to citizens is the way to guarantee the freedoms enshrined in international and national instruments."

Specialist Mehdi Benchelah, Senior Project Officer at UNESCO's Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists Section, agreed that law enforcement agencies have an interest in improving the relationship with the media because, through them, in a way, the exercise of freedom of expression is also defended.

"By reporting on sensitive issues, including the performance of law enforcement agencies (such as the proportional use of force), journalists play a key role in shaping perception. Ultimately, this serves to enhance public confidence in law enforcement officers," Benchelah added.

The first panel of the event was moderated by Amada Ponce, Executive Director of C-Libre, from Honduras, representing Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información. The second panel was moderated by Adriana León, Head of the Press Freedom area of Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS). Prominent international speakers linked to these sectors of activity also participated in the webinar. These include:

  • Sarah Dean Kelly, Communications Consultant and former Head of Press Office at Greater Manchester Police, UK • André Leclerc, Former Spokesperson and Media Relations Officer, Montreal Police Service (SPVM), Canada
  • Kriscia Rodríguez, Communications and Protocol Coordinator at the International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA San Salvador) - Ministry of Justice and Public Security of El Salvador
  • Brigadier General Yackeline Navarro Ordoñez, National Director of Schools (DINAE) of the National Police of Colombia and Executive Director of the Network of Police Educational Internalization (RINEP)
  • João Mário Nunes de Goes, Coordinator of the Press and Community Relations Office of the Civil Police of Paraná (PCPR), Brazil
  • Martha C. Ramos Sosa, National Editorial Director at the Organización Editorial Mexicana (OEM), Mexico
  • Oscar Javier Sosa Barrero, Head of Strategic Communications Office, Executive Secretariat of the Americas Police Community (AMERIPOL)
  • Brigadier General Luis Ernesto García Hernández, Head of the Planning Office of the National Police of Colombia
  • Zuliana Lainez Otero, President of the Federation of Journalists of Latin America and the Caribbean (FEPALC)
  • Cristian Taboada, Chief of the Security and Justice Section of the Department of Public Security (DSP) of the Organization of American States (OAS) - The Inter-American Network for Police Development and Professionalization (REDPPOL) of the OAS
  • Dr. Eduardo Bertoni, Representative of the Regional Office for South America at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights (IIDH)

This activity was the launch and first part of a series of trainings and activities on freedom of expression, media and law enforcement that UNESCO plans to carry out in the region throughout 2022.