Honduran television journalists Renato Alvarez and Roxana Guevara
Photo: La Prensa
Photo: La Prensa
Despite the fact that the latest Hondutel scandal has been reported in at least three countries and by all the Honduran newspapers, Marcelo Chimirri, gerente of the government-owned telephone company, has instigated criminal charges against two television and two radio journalists and the editors of Honduran newspapers La Prensa and El Heraldo (in Spanish) for merely reporting on the denuncias (official complaints) which were reported by El Universal of Mexico and later by CNN en Español.
Provisions in Honduras Penal Code on defamation-related offenses known as “crimes against honor,” such as injuria (offensive or insulting words or actions), treat such matters as criminal, rather than civil, cases.
La Prensa called it a wave of intimidation. Roxana Guevera, one of the television journalists, said, "This is persecution on the part of the government; I feel persecuted because all of the media of the country as well as international media (and one blogicito!) reported this and only we (one television station and one radio station) have been filed against." She believes that the government could be covering up things that as yet haven't been brought to the public light.
Guevera says that the government should be starting a independent audit to verify the charges of irregularities. She also says that despite the denuncias, the government has not proceeded against Cable Color as they have against other companies who have been accused of grey traffic.
Renato Alvarez, another well-respected television journalist who was filed against, said that criticisms are publicized by the media in industrialized countries and the government institutions don't react with lawsuits. "When they don't refute the charges with proof, or don't go directly to the investigators, it is a bad symptom that things aren't working well."
The director of Radio Cadena Voces, Dagoberto Rodríguez, said they are going to file complaints with Honduras' National Human Rights Commission and the Interamerica Press Association for the increased intimidation against reporters. In his opinion, the Executive Power is looking to put up a barrier so that complaints of corruption are not reported.
Elán Reyes, President of the Press Association of Honduras, claimed that the government is trying to "bury the freedom of the press. (Spanish) The association is highly alarmed about these lawsuits....which have only the objective of intimidating and violating the freedom of press." He invited the government, instead of filing lawsuits, to open the doors of the institution in question to realize the investigations after so many complaints of irregularities.
Reporters without Borders condemns the wave of press freedom violations in Honduras, citing shooting, threats, personal attacks, and lawsuits as attempts to gag the press. In April 2006, a television reporter was fired for merely reporting that three of Santa Rosa de Copán's city councilmen had voted against a measure. Local, national, and international pressure resulted in her receiving an apology and her job back a few weeks later. Hondurans have the right to vote but apparently don't have the right to know how their elected officials vote in matters important to them.
C-Libre, the Committee for Freedom of Speech, documented 40 violations, including one murder, in their 2006 report on the Right of Information and Freedom of Speech. The International Press Institute's 2006 report of World Press Freedom states that Honduran journalists exercise self-censorship in the light of pressure from their employers.
In April 2007, President Mel Zelaya tried but failed to get the Congress to pass a law preventing the press from reporting violent acts. In May 2007, Zelaya forced television and radio stations to broadcast government propaganda in several planned sessions during which all other programming was not allowed to air. In July 2007, Marcelo Chimirri filed a L.500 million lawsuit (US$26.5 million) against Honduran newspapers La Prensa and El Heraldo for reporting on claims of corruption in Hondutel.
Today's El Heraldo editorial states it is lamentable and shameful that just days after our country descended into the dishonorable first place of corruption in Central America according to Transparency International, that instead of launching an offensive against the corrupt, journalists and the mass media are being victims of a campaign of intimidation. The mass media not only has the right, but the obligation, to bring to light a matter that is of interest to all the Hondurans.
These actions also put Honduras in violation of international treaties (Spanish) which stipulate that "every individual has the right to the liberty of opinion and of expression; this right includes that of not being molested on account of his opinions, the right to investigate and receive information and opinions, and that of diffusing them, without limitation of borders by any medium of expression".
The culture of government secrecy and intimidation is a hard habit to break. My opinion is that the media is Honduras' only hope of turning back corruption as the international aid organizations only pay lip service and continue to fill the trough that the corruptos feed from with hundreds of millions of dollars each year even though they know that large portions of the aid do not go to the areas for which they are intended. Blogger Aaron and others believe that the key to stopping corruption in Honduras is to stop international aid.
Vilma Morales, President of the Supreme Court of Justice, has asked that Honduran society have confidence in the system of justice. She says that while she can't comment on the cases, the right of freedom of expression and the right of free press are fundamental human rights guaranteed by the constitution of Honduras.
Hopefully that right isn't limited to only happy, pretty, approved speech.