Guatemala | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Guatemala

Guatemala

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

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

58

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

25

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

16

While reports of threats against and intimidation of journalists decreased from the previous year, Guatemalan journalists continued to work under difficult and dangerous conditions in 2007, with the murder of one journalist and targeted assassination attempts on others. Article 35 of the constitution ensures freedom of expression, which is generally respected by the government. In 2006, the government decriminalized press offenses, and the Constitutional Court declared Articles 411 and 412 of the press code unconstitutional; these articles had deemed an insult or slur aimed at a government official as a crime punishable by imprisonment. Lacking freedom of information legislation, reporters have claimed that obtaining access to government information remains difficult. There were no legal cases during the year that significantly affected press freedom.

Although the independent media are relatively free to express diverse opinions on a variety of issues and criticize the government without many legal repercussions, violence against media workers by nonstate actors continued to impact the press environment. The Public Ministry reported 11 incidents of intimidation of journalists in 2007, down from 67 in 2006. One journalist was murdered in addition to numerous physical attacks and assassination attempts on others. Threats and violence increased during the weeks surrounding the two rounds of the presidential election held in September and November. In early February, Wilder Jordan, Nuestro Diario correspondent and news director for Radio Sultana, was the target of gunfire in Zacapa. The attack was believed to be connected to a January 15 report in which Jordan alleged that a bus driver’s apprentice was responsible for a public transportation accident. By year’s end, no official action had been taken to investigate the case. In addition, several journalists from separate media outlets received anonymous threats based on their coverage of the February 19 murder of three Salvadoran congressmen and their driver. Radio producer Mario Rolando Lopez Sanchez was gunned down outside his home in Guatemala City on May 3. Lopez produced the often contentious political program Casos y Cosas de la Vida Nacional and a variety of socially focused programs on Radio Sonora, a privately held station with listeners nationwide. On September 4, an unidentified gunman fired into the offices of Radio Nuevo Mundo in Guatemala City five days before the presidential election. The attack was allegedly in response to the station’s critical coverage of the government throughout the presidential campaign. Frequent attacks against the press, combined with the state of impunity for crimes of this nature, have produced a chilling effect on the industry, often leading journalists to practice self-censorship.

Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of business elites with centrist or conservative editorial stances, and one company—Prensa Libre—dominates the newspaper market. There are four major daily papers. Electronic media ownership remains concentrated in the hands of Angel Gonzalez of Mexico, a politically connected entrepreneur who favors conservative perspectives and controls all four of the country’s private television stations. Only one cable newscast offers a contrasting viewpoint to this on-air news monopoly. Nine community radio stations that were closed in 2006 for reportedly not having licenses remained closed in 2007. The resolution of their legal status was part of the 1996 peace accords but has not been addressed. In a nation where only 60 percent of the population speaks 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. There are no reports of government limitations on internet usage, although the internet was accessed by only about 7 percent of the population in 2007.