The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) on Monday urged hemispheric governments not to use public funds to punish independent media houses.

In a resolution passed at its Midyear Conference in Cartagena, Colombia, IAPA, a body which defends press freedom in the region, named Guyana, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay and Nicaragua, as countries where this is the practice.

The Bharrat Jagdeo Government in Guyana has suspended the placement of state-agency advertisements in the Stabroek newspaper. This started in November last year during the presidential election campaign when President Jagdeo blasted the newspaper for being critical of his administration and accused it of fostering the development of a new political party. A delegation from the Caribbean media met with President Jagdeo in St. Vincent in February and he promised to review his government’s decision.

The IAPA condemned what it termed “favouritism in the placement of government advertising as a tool to reward or punish media companies and to influence their editorial and news policies in parts of the hemisphere.”

“The Midyear meeting of the IAPA resolves to urge hemis-pheric governments not to use public funds to punish inde-pendent journalism or divergent opinions,” the resolution said.

Delegates spent much time deliberating the situation in Cuba and Venezuela, countries where some of the greatest threats to press freedom exist.

In Venezuela, the government of Hugo Chavezhas announced the closure of a key independent television station which is using state advertising for political control, and is ordering the judicial persecution of journalists. The National Assembly has also delegated to the President broad powers to legislate by decree, “which has the consequence of great danger for judicial order and for democracy,” said IAPA.

In Cuba, journalists continue to be harassed and IAPA has passed a resolution demanding the unconditional release of all jailed journalists “and an end to government repression against independent newsgathering practices”.

The four-day IAPA Midyear Conference ended in Cartagena on Monday. The 63rd General Assembly will be held in Miami, Florida, in October this year.