Businessman Gets TV Station Back

Associated Press -- 6 December 2000

by Craig Mauro

LIMA, Peru - An Israeli-born businessman on Wednesday regained control of a television station that had been taken from him after he aired reports linking Peru's military to corruption and torture.

Supporters of Baruch Ivcher heralded the return of his Channel 2 as a possible turning point in the fight for press freedom, which was stifled by a decade of authoritarian rule by former President Alberto Fujimori.

``I feel thrilled, I feel fabulous, we are home again,'' said Baruch Ivcher, who was swarmed by hundreds of supporters and journalists as he entered Channel 2 for the first time since 1997.

Dozens of helmeted riot police stood guard outside the station throughout the morning as lawyers and judges inside completed the paperwork to legally transfer the station to Ivcher.

The fall of Fujimori's government last month during a tumultuous corruption scandal opened the way for Ivcher's return to Peru on Monday.

The government stripped Ivcher of his Peruvian citizenship in 1997 after his station broadcast a series of reports implicating the military in torture and political espionage. Since foreigners are prohibited from owning media companies in Peru, a court than took control of the station from Ivcher and gave it to pro-Fujimori minority shareholders.

Ivcher later fled the country, fearing for his life.

Fujimori resigned in disgrace on Nov. 20 after a videotape showing his ex-spy chief Vladimiro Montesinos apparently bribing a congressman thrust Peru into political turmoil.

An interim government, led by Congress president Valentin Paniagua, is working to restore the credibility of Peru's democratic institutions in the run-up to new elections in April. Ivcher's Peruvian nationality was restored Nov. 8.

Critics have long contended that Fujimori, in tandem with the shadowy Montesinos, systematically suppressed Peru's independent media with smear tactics, harassment, legal entanglements and selective access to government advertising money and information.

The repression led the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists to label the regime an ``infotatorship.'' Last year the same watchdog group put Fujimori on its list of top 10 enemies of the press worldwide.

Fujimori's government targeted the television industry - a key vehicle for shaping public opinion in Peru, a nation where newspaper readership is low.

The case of Ivcher's Channel 2, also known as Frecuencia Latina, provided the most clear-cut example of government meddling and harassment. But Peru's major television stations were all coerced by the government, critics charged.

Ivcher triumphantly returned on Monday to find his station in a shambles. He estimates it is now $20 million to $30 million in debt, despite $8 million he left in its coffers.

``The idea was to break me economically,'' he told foreign journalists in Lima on Tuesday.

``I don't understand why Frecuencia Latina is in the red and debt-ridden if it received a series of benefits from Fujimori's government, such as state advertising in the amount of $15 million,'' Ivcher said Wednesday.