Guatemala | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Although cracks surfaced, press freedom conditions remained improved during the second year of President Oscar Berger's administration. In an important step, the nation's highest court suspended enforcement of criminal desacato (disrespect) laws on June 14 while it reviewed the constitutionality of articles criminalizing expression deemed offensive to public officials and state institutions. However, a number of other developments limited optimism. The executive branch passed regulations for access to government information that were vague and subject to abuse instead of embracing broader proposals from civil society. In addition, noncommercial radio outlets complained that the state has failed to fulfill its promise in the 1996 post-civil war peace accords to legalize low-power community radio stations. The stations are usually run by volunteers, are able to reach only about 2.5 miles, and are the main source of information for millions of indigenous Guatemalans. Current rules require a $27,000 licensing fee for them to legalize their status, out of range for all but religious broadcasters with outside funding. Additionally, in December authorities ordered the closure of Stereo Samala in southwest Guatemala and fined it $10,000 for failure to legalize, although hundreds of stations are in a similar situation. Stereo Samala covers human rights and was one of the few stations to emphasize the devastation of indigenous villages during Hurricane Stan.

In 2005, occasional violence against journalists, especially from former paramilitary officers, continued to cast a pall over free expression, and the traditional culture of self-censorship established during Guatemala's violent past continued. The resolution of the case of the June 2003 attack on Jose Ruben Zamora, publisher of the critical daily el Periodico, was also disappointing. A Guatemala City court sentenced a former armed forces member to 16 years in prison for his part in the attack, which occurred during a three-hour home invasion, but acquitted another ex-soldier for lack of evidence. Eleven gunmen took part in the raid, and Zamora himself identified four attackers, all members of the elite presidential guard, disbanded under Berger, who had been accused of human right abuses.

Electronic media ownership remained concentrated in the hands of Mexican Angel Gonzalez, a politically connected entrepreneur who favors conservative perspectives and holds a monopoly on national television. Gonzalez uses holding companies to mask his ownership and to skirt laws designed to prevent foreign ownership and monopoly control. Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of business elites with centrist or conservative editorial stances. Indigenous languages are rarely heard in national media. Some journalists rely on bribery to survive in this impoverished country. There are no government restrictions on the internet, although less than 6 percent of the population can afford regular access.