The Foreign Press Association of Peru (Asociación de Prensa Extranjera del Perú - APEP) represents the news agencies and correspondents in Peru. It has existed since 1964. It's more than just a social club where journalists can swap stories about what they could not report -- though that is an important role. It provides real assistance to the crew of professional journalists residing in the country or visiting it on a regular basis.
Over the past 20 years, Peru has been in the news -- guerrilla warfare, human rightst abuses, democracy and fair elections, outright border wars, international financial crises, the War on Drugs, and CIA meddling, to name just a few of the issues. That means demands are placed on residents correspondents, especially when Peruvian governments have frequently misunderstood the role of the international media. The APEP served as an intermediary to obtain clear regulations for news agencies and correspondents.
What stood out is that it welcomed freelance journalists and gave them equal entry into its sponsored briefings and media conferences. That approach was important since Peru was a magnet for many aspiring journalists trying to wet their skills on the diverse stories coming out of the country.
Since 1995, APEP has an actual office, the International Press Center, at the Hotel Americas in Miraflores. Before then, it operated out of loaned space from a news agency. Services are also provided to visiting journalists.
I served as vice president, secretary and board member for five of the six years that I belonged to the APEP. My eight years in the organization were great because they helped to increase my self-esteem. In my first years as a stringer, I was not aware of how I was doing, but my colleagues constantly praised me for my stories, which I did not expect them to even read.
In addition to formal news conferences, we had a monthly get-together at the Hotel Bolivar on the Plaza Martin. We had presidential candidates, political leaders, businessmen and other public figures for an informal gathering. It was a way for journalists to broaden their contacts with Peruvian sources.
The most important role of APEP was contacting key people in the government (Inteiror Minister or even the Presidential Palace) when a member or visiting correspondent got into trouble. Sometimes, the police and the military got touchy about foreign journalists snooping around. For instance, taking pictures of government installations was prohibited. When Sendero Luminoso and MRTA were harassing the government, there were plenty of inquiries that raised suspicions.
In the 1980s, there was nothing like APEP in the other South American countries, either because the critical mass of resident journalists did not exist or competition among journalists did not let them band together for mutual benefit. I don't know if things have changed. Even now, colleagues in Latin America tell me that most foreign press clubs or assosications fail to match APEP's activity.