Guatemala | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Status change explanation: Guatemala's status improved from Not Free to Partly Free owing to a decrease in attacks against and intimidation of the media under the new administration of President Oscar Berger.

Conditions for the Guatemalan media improved after the inauguration of President Oscar Berger in January 2004, which ended a period of increasing tension between the press and the previous administration. Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and is generally respected in practice. However, the legal framework limits free expression to accredited members of the media, and criminal libel laws provide for sentences of up to five years in prison. During the year, the new administration of President Berger made some headway against the prevailing atmosphere of impunity. Before his election, Berger had promised to hold past leaders accountable for their actions. Efrain Rios Montt, former president of Guatemala's Congress and a brutal dictator in the 1980s, was placed under house arrest and charged with responsibility for the 2003 death of television reporter Hector Ramirez. Ramirez died of a heart attack during riots when protesters turned on the media. Prosecutors believe Rios Montt and his son, the former head of the military, plotted to spark the riots as a way to force the courts to allow the former dictator to run for president. At year's end, the government was also moving to deal with other prominent cases, including the June 2003 attack on Jose Ruben Zamora, publisher of elPeriodico. New evidence revealed that members of a secretive presidential military-intelligence unit and a member of the attorney general's staff took part in the attack. Zamora's elPeriodico is regarded as an investigative publication willing to take risks and one of the few that will publish left-leaning views.

Nevertheless, occasional violence and intimidation continue to cast a pall over free expression in the country. Clandestine paramilitary groups, drug traffickers, and corrupt police all posed threats to journalists, particularly those in the provinces. This year, Miguel Angel Morales, secretary-general of the National Press Society, was assassinated on a highway between the capital and Izabal Department. Using tear gas, police attacked journalists covering a land protest in August, beating several and confiscating their equipment. At the protest, journalists had witnessed the extrajudicial killings of peasants by police. Also, police assaulted reporters covering celebrations in the capital after a soccer match. Various journalists reported death threats and intimidation. Guatemala's violent past also has established a culture of self-censorship for many journalists.

Media ownership is extremely concentrated. A Mexican, Angel Gonzalez, controls a monopoly of broadcast television networks and has significant radio properties. Gonzalez uses holding companies to mask his ownership and to skirt laws designed to prevent foreign ownership and monopoly control. Gonzalez's dominance of the electronic media has limited the diversity of viewpoints available on the airwaves, as he favors conservative perspectives. Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of moderate business elites. Most newspapers have centrist or conservative editorial stances. In one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, some journalists rely on bribery to survive in a system filled with corruption.