The fact that many Latin American countries share one language allows for disinformation and “noticias falsas” (fake news) to easily be disseminated throughout the region. In order to combat this, our Latin America office held the first “Media Literacy Festival”, aiming to emphasize the importance of identifying and fighting disinformation.
The current health crisis has had a tremendous global impact on how we access information and in regions such as Mexico and Central America, it has highlighted structural fractures in terms of inequality of resources, access to information, and rights. As a whole, Latin American society has faced disinformation, violence, impunity, and a lack of tools necessary to overcome these challenges.
Society has the right to receive objective, plural, and truthful information at all times. In theory, the state is responsible for ensuring that these rights are respected while providing adequate solutions to crises. But governments with populist or authoritarian tendencies can use crises to help spread disinformation and/or implement disproportionate restrictions on the exercise of rights. Even in democratic countries, the tools used by governments to collect information can be used to harm vulnerable groups, such as journalists or activists. Unfortunately, the pandemic has intensified the threat to freedom of expression in journalistic work, as governments seek to control the narrative regarding the pandemic.
In several regions of Mexico, the government has been accused of downplaying the severity of the pandemic, underreporting figures regarding Covid-19 cases and deaths, and failing to provide timely official guidance to the population. Official information was also lacking in the multiple (official) indigenous languages used in many areas of the country, leading to an explosion of disinformation and rumor regarding Covid-19, and disproportionately negatively affecting these rural indigenous communities.
FNF Mexico worked with international NGO Article 19 on a multi-platform project about Disinformation and Freedom of Expression. It involves training and education of journalists in Mexico, an information campaign, and an extensive report entitled “C.O.V.I.D: Freedom of expression and information during the pandemic in Mexico and Central America” (available here in Spanish ) The report compares the situation in countries with democratically elected governments in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to the situation in Cuba, where no freedom of information exists, and analyzes the role of the state, and technology in access to information, and freedom of the press during the pandemic. The report also includes recommendations regarding the right to freedom of expression and information, violence against the press, and the deployment of technological resources to face current and future crises.