Shocking Ads  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   December/January 2005

Shocking Ads   

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      


The Inter American Press Association runs a public information campaign like no other: It advertises the murders of journalists.

As part of IAPA's Unpunished Crimes Against Journalists project--nicknamed The Impunity Project--the organization creates ads once a month in Spanish, English and Portuguese, raising awareness about the killing of journalists in the Americas. Newspapers, 241 by early November, have donated advertising space to run them.

The ads are startling--a skull featured on some, a graphic of splattered blood on others--and the language is direct. "His body was struck by twenty-two bullets fired by three hit men," begins one, about the death of Santiago Leguizamón, a Paraguayan radio reporter.

"These ads are meant to be a little shocking," says Alberto Ibargüen, chair of the impunity committee and publisher of the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, two newspapers that participate. "It's meant to be a punch to the nose, and then a call to action so you do something about it."

The notices invite the public to visit the project's Web site, www.impunidad.com, and sign a petition urging government officials to investigate the murders and prosecute the assailants.

IAPA began producing the ads in 2003. By the end of 2004 it will distribute radio spots, says Ricardo Trotti, director of the IAPA's press freedom program, and television commercials will come next.

The ad campaign is just one aspect of The Impunity Project, which was launched in 1995 with investigations of unsolved murders. A rapid-response unit, made up of four journalists in Latin America, examines both new and old cases, posting its stories, which newspapers can pick up, on the Web site. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 13 journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean were killed in the first 10 months of 2004, most because of work that exposed or criticized corruption and criminal activity. (A grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation funds the IAPA's freedom of the press programs.)

Trotti says the pressure IAPA puts on the leaders of Latin American countries has led to an increase in prosecutions. The mission is to put an end to the impunity the killers of journalists have long enjoyed, because, says Trotti, "we think it is the only way that journalists are not going to be killed."

The newspapers involved in the ad campaign--with a cumulative circulation of 15 million--have donated about $3.5 million worth of ad space each year thus far. Thirty papers are in the United States, although, Ibargüen points out, many have not been regular participants.

Ibargüen would like more in the U.S. to get involved. "I want to raise awareness in the United States about how difficult it is to do in the hemisphere what we take for granted," he says. Plus, he believes, Americans are more likely to respond to the ads. "I just know that our rate of participation and possibly the rate of attention that officials give to these things would be significantly greater."

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