Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Status change explanation: Guatemala's status changed from Partly Free to Not Free to reflect increased threats of violence and extralegal intimidation faced by journalists in 2003.
Guatemala's constitution provides for the establishment of a free press. Newspapers maintain their independence by reporting critically on government policies. A Supreme Court decision recently struck down a law requiring journalists to be part of a governmentally licensed union. Yet the fragile state of security throughout Guatemalan society, which emerged in 1996 from decades of civil war, extends especially to journalists who investigate historical occurrences of human rights abuses by former government officials and agencies. Throughout 2003, these investigative journalists faced considerable pressure to curtail their reporting activities, often backed by threats of violence or abduction. The government of President Alfonso Portillo, elected in 1999, continues to be widely accused of gross corruption in attempting to exert influence over the press. Elections held in November sparked a wave of violence and intimidation. The Committee to Protect Journalists described Guatemala in 2003 as "one of the most dangerous places in the Americas to work as a journalist." Four journalists were abducted in October by former paramilitaries, who used the abducted journalists as bargaining chips in order to exact compensation for services they had rendered the government during the recent civil war. In July, a mob of supporters for the government opponent, General Efrain Rios Montt, harassed several members of the press whom they had blamed for a Supreme Court decision that had denied Montt the right to run for president. Hector Ramirez of Radio Sonora, one of the journalists targeted in the attacks, died of a heart attack after being chased by the vigilantes throughout Guatemala City. Many journalists practice self-censorship to avoid these perils. A Mexican media tycoon, Remigio Angel Gonzalez, owns all of the country's television stations. The stations have been criticized for being monopolistic and too pro-government. The government uses heavy licensing fees to regulate the establishment of new media outlets. News coverage tends to focus on Guatemala City, ignoring the issues of provincial areas and the country's large indigenous population.