More than 160 journalists in Latin America were threatened or attacked in some way because they were investigating corruption during 2002, according to their representative body.

During the past 26 months, PFC (Journalists Against Corruption) has responded to 632 requests for investigative assistance.

A report looking at its activities last year said: "Almost 60% of the requests in 2002 required cross-border contacts. The most recent involved money-laundering activities of two Central American presidents; associations of police, military and other government officials with drug cartels and armed groups; and hunting down government officials who fled their countries after being charged with corruption.

"Other topics have ranged from corruption in Moonie sects to the misuse and embezzlement of international donations and illegal campaign financing by a Bank in Spain."

The report said: "Unfortunately, the number of attacks against journalists has risen. Other than Columbia, where they are victimised by war, most aggression suffered by reporters relates to their exposure of corruption."

For example, in Panama, 90 of the country's 200 active journalists are or have recently faced defamation suits, half of which have been filed by government officials.

In some place, like El Salvador, printed media journalists are prohibited by their job contracts from interacting with journalists from other media who may be covering the same story.

PFC does most of its work via the web, and traffic to its site has steadily increased since the launch. By August last year its average number of monthly site users was 25,000. Its members also include journalists fighting corruption in other parts of the world.

PFC uses internet resources both to inform international organisations about reprisals, legislative proposals, court rulings and other actions that undermine press freedom in Latin America, and to prompt their interventions. It also monitors the Latin American press for corruption stories and offers support services to reporters under threat.

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