Freedom of the Press
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)
Guatemalan journalists work under difficult conditions, threatened by rising violence from basic and organized crime as well as premeditated attacks on human rights workers and other critical voices, including independent journalists. IIn a positive step, in 2006 the government decriminalized press offenses, while the Constitutional Court declared that Articles 411 and 412 of the press code were unconstitutional. In its decision, the Court noted that those articles of the press code contradicted Article 35 of the Constitution, which ensures freedom of expression. However, reporters say that obtaining access to government information is difficult. Nine community radio stations were closed in 2006 for reportedly having no licenses, and some of the directors were arrested and detained briefly. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, the closures were ordered by the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists and Unionists with the support of the Telecommunications Authority and the National Broadcast Commission.
While the situation is far better than during the country’s protracted civil war, several attacks on journalists this year drew concern from international press advocates. The U.S. State Department reported that 67 incidents of intimidation of journalists were recorded in 2006, a significant rise over the reported 26 incidents in 2005. This included the murder of one journalist as well as the attempted assassination of another. The murder occurred in September when Eduardo Maas Bol, who worked for three different newspapers and radio stations, was shot outside the city of Coban. One possible suspect has been arrested in connection with the crime, and Maas Bol’s journalism is still believed to be a possible motive. Separately, in August Vinicio Aguilar Mancilla, a presenter on Radio 10, survived an assassination attempt by two gunmen. Two other journalists received death threats, one during a live call-in radio show. Moreover, the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists and Unionists has solved only one case involving the killing of a journalist since it was created in 2001, adding to an atmosphere of impunity. These attacks seem linked to the general lack of guarantees for those denouncing abuses of all kinds. However, work linking police to extrajudicial killings reminiscent of the death squad era was especially dangerous. Advocates report that the psychological effect is taking its toll, leading to self-censorship.
Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of business elites with centrist or conservative editorial stances, with one company—Prensa Libre—dominating the newspaper market, although facing two weaker national competitors. 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. Only one cable newscast, with a professional (if somewhat cautious) staff, offers a contrasting viewpoint to this on-air news monopoly. In a nation where only 60 percent of the population can speak Spanish, the paucity of indigenous language programming is a severe constraint on freedom of expression and of the press. Indigenous languages are rarely heard in national media, and the government continued to repress independent community broadcasters in 2006. The resolution of their legal status was part of the 1996 peace accords but has not been addressed. There are no reports of government limitations on internet usage, although the internet is accessed by only approximately 8 percent of the population.