November 22, 2011

Red Alert! - meddling with the Honduran media?

Porfirio Lobo, President of Honduras

Proceso Digital announced today that Honduran President Pepe Lobo has summoned all directors of the major Honduran media to come to a meeting on Friday to talk about those "national themes that have caused controversy in the country".

If Lobo was going to congratulate the media on their excellent and thorough coverage of the criminal police scandals and the important role they have played in impelling exposure which will hopefully result in the purification of the rottenly corrupt and deadly police department, he likely would have done that in a press conference.

More likely he is going to suggest a gag order among the media, possibly telling them that they are threatening national security or trying to destabilize the government (favorite claims of authoritarian administrations). Maybe he'll just ask them to "give him some time" and he'll take care of everything personally thereby buying time until the media goes on to the next scandal and the exhausted public forgets about this one. Maybe there will be implied threats of possible charges of interfering with investigations or defamation, which is a criminal offense in Honduras for which "the truth" is not a legal defense, and for which other corrupt government officials have sued reporters and newspapers for millions of dollars in the past. Maybe there will be carrots dangled in the form of government advertising contracts. Will we ever know? I hope so.

The public is told weekly by various government leaders, up to and frequently including President Lobo himself, that other individuals and organizations within and outside the government are corrupt. Presidents, congressmen, judges, prosecutors, police, ministers, directors, generals, heads of La ENEE and Hondutel, government 'oversight committees', businessmen, attorneys, unions, teachers, NGOs, and "the rich" in general are all regularly smeared with the muddy brush of corruption directly from government officials' own lips in press conferences. (If I've left out any group, it was inadvertent. No one in Honduras escapes from these vague claims.) These same officials, including President Lobo, never ever get around to naming names or filing official denuncias about this corruption of which they always claim to have concrete information and should have a moral duty to report.

So the odd thing is, the main difference between the "demonizing" that the media has been doing and the "demonizing" that the administration has been doing is that the media has presented facts and figures to back up what they say whereas the administration only tries to make themselves look better by claiming everyone else is worse.

I see the Honduran media as the only possible hope of getting some resolution to the police corruption scandal — which the government is obviously trying to downplay — though of course, the media gets its own accusations of corruption and financial influence as well.

The government is a major advertiser in the Honduran media, probably the biggest after the cell phone companies, and it has often been reported that many journalists accept payment for covering or not covering news or for putting a preferred slant on it. Channel 10 news is currently showing an incredible number of lengthy government commercials, more than I've ever seen in the past, including during the "Cuarta Urna" media blast of Mel Zelaya in 2009.

The national congress, Secretary of Health, La ENEE (government owned electric monopoly), Hondutel (government owned telephone company), Secretary of Tourism, and the "Government of Unity" are all major advertisers, who use tens of millions of taxpayer money to buy commercials to tell us what a wonderful job they are doing, while the majority of the population lives in poverty and malnutrition, without electricity, running water, or any kind of decent health care, missing half or more of the school year, and with no hope of finding a job much less taking a vacation to Roatan from it.

All of this is in addition to not one, but two, dedicated government TV channels in which one-sided propaganda and political campaigning is blasted to public for 16-24 hours a day. These channels are even blatantly used for unfair political campaigning and demonizing political opponents and those who don't agree with whatever current actions the President and his minions in Congress are trying to take. Equal time for opposing opinions? Open debate of the issues? Forget about it! No, Lobo is using the government station in the same offensive way that Zelaya did, to manipulate the public.

On top of all that advertising and dedicated propaganda channels, both President Lobo and full time presidential candidate Juan Orlando Hernández (who happens to also be President of the Congress in his spare time) abusively take over the airwaves of all television and radio stations in incessant, vapid, and patronizing cadenas in which we are told that crime is already reduced by 90% or 60% or 50% or "to almost zero" in one area or another, that "el pueblo already feels so much safer than we did before because of Operación Relámpago", how we must not be naughty by demonizing the police because of a few bad apples, and that the rights of bad cops must be respected.

During the meeting of ministers in which the media meeting was announced, Lobo also announced that his government will start a campaign and an international forum where they will "expound on the defense of freedom of expression versus the defense of economic interests" — whatever that means.

We'll see what happens on Friday. I have faith that the Honduran media won't be intimidated.

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