Freedom of the Press
The environment for media freedom in Honduras has remained poor since a 2009 coup ushered in a period of intense political polarization. Journalists reporting on organized crime and corruption work under difficult conditions and often face retaliatory harassment, intimidation, and violence. Impunity for crimes against media workers is pervasive, and the state shows little commitment to enforcing protections for the press.
- Several media workers were killed in 2015, but connections between the assailants’ motives and the victims’ journalistic work remained unclear at year’s end.
- A new law to protect journalists and human rights advocates took effect in June, drawing cautious optimism from freedom of expression advocates.
Legal Environment: 18 / 30 (↑1)
The constitution protects freedoms of speech and the press, but the surrounding legal environment is problematic. While the penal code’s desacato (disrespect) provision, which aimed to protect the honor of public officials, was abolished in 2005, other restrictive press laws remain on the books and can be used to punish journalists who report on sensitive issues such as government corruption, drug trafficking, and human rights abuses.
In a positive step, the Law on Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators, and Operators of Justice took effect in June. The law aims to strengthen protections for journalists and other actors who are constantly under physical threat and to improve mechanisms for investigating instances of violence and intimidation. While observers welcomed the law as an important step for improving the media environment, many expressed skepticism about the authorities’ capacity to meaningfully implement it.
In December 2013, journalist Julio Ernesto Alvarado of the Globo radio and television network received a deferred 16-month prison sentence after being convicted of criminal defamation for an incident that occurred in 2006. Although the sentence was deferred, the Honduran Supreme Court (CSJ) barred Alvarado from working as a journalist during that period. Alvarado appealed the decision while facing constant threats and judicial harassment, and received a favorable ruling by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in November 2014. The CSJ initially upheld the work ban but reversed its position in December 2015, complying with the IACHR decision. Separately, in November, a local court found David Romero, the director of Radio Globo, guilty of multiple counts of criminal defamation in a case brought by a former state prosecutor. The court had not yet sentenced Romero at year’s end.
Compliance with the country’s 2007 law on freedom of information remains low. In 2014, the national legislature adopted a new measure—the Law on Secret Information—limiting the types of data available to the public, but suspended the law amid pushback from press freedom and transparency advocates. Nevertheless, policymakers’ frequent conflation of secrecy with national security and the generally ambiguous legal environment contribute to the tenuousness of press freedom.
Community radio stations are not clearly recognized by Honduran law and operate under threat of closure. Their ambiguous legal status also exposes them to regular threats and harassment, particularly if they carry opposition views.
Political Environment: 34 / 40
Government pressure and threats continue to limit editorial freedom. Criminal groups and state agents have exacerbated self-censorship in recent years by intimidating and issuing threats against journalists and their families. The trend has weakened investigative journalism and led reporters to avoid certain areas of the country.
Journalists have reported difficulties accessing official information. Rony Martinez of Radio Globo, Cesar Silva of Globo Noticias Honduras, and Dina Meza of Reporters Without Borders were among the media workers denied access to high-level government meetings and legislative proceedings in 2015.
Widespread violence has made Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous places for media professionals, who face significant risks when investigating issues of public interest, including the actions of state officials. In May, a police officer assaulted several journalists who were attempting to report from a murder scene. Also in May, Radio Globo director Romero reported receiving death threats after he revealed information implicating President Juan Orlando Hernández in a case of alleged embezzlement of government funds.
At least nine media professionals—among them news presenters, camera operators, and outlet owners—were killed in 2015. The circumstances surrounding the killings remained unclear at year’s end, and none of the motives were confirmed as journalism-related by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The failure of police and prosecutors to conduct thorough investigations and the general prevalence of violence make it difficult to determine whether the murders of journalists are linked to their work. These conditions also contribute to an environment of impunity. According to the National Human Rights Commission, as of 2015, authorities have fully prosecuted only two of the 51 killings of journalists recorded since 2003.
Economic Environment: 15 / 30
There are at least nine daily newspapers, six private television stations, and five radio stations that broadcast nationally, as well as a large number of community radio stations. Most of the major outlets are owned by a small group of magnates with diverse political and commercial interests who exercise considerable control over content. Approximately 20 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2015, but poor infrastructure in rural areas limits penetration. However, high mobile phone use has made access to the internet more widely available in recent years.
Corruption among journalists and government manipulation of state advertising purchases remain common. Many journalists tailor their coverage to serve the interests of state and private advertisers in order to maintain favorability.