On election eve, what hope for media freedom in Honduras?
As Honduras prepares for a presidential election on 26 November, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) voices deep concern about the appalling state of media freedom in this Central American country.
Eight years after a coup d’état in June 2009, the level of press freedom is still sinking in Honduras. Journalists continue to be the targets of judicial proceedings, violence and murder, reinforcing a climate of fear and self-censorship that has worsened under Juan Orlando Hernández, the president since January 2014.
After getting the supreme court to strike articles from the constitution banning a second presidential term in 2015, Hernández is running for reelection and is expected to win. His record on media freedom during his first term was particularly bad, so the prospect of his reelection is very disturbing for RSF.
Dangerous country for journalists
Honduras is one of the western hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media. According to its National Commission for Human Rights (CONADEH), 70 journalists and media workers were killed in Honduras from January 2001 until August of this year. No fewer than 91% of these cases are still unpunished.
According to RSF’s tally, at least four journalists have been killed in direct connection with their work since January 2014. The latest murder, that of Canal 22 journalist Carlos William Flores on 13 September, caused an international outcry. Many other journalists have been killed in Honduras in recent years but, in the absence of reliable information and proper investigations, it is hard to establish a clear link between their murder and their journalistic work.
The creation of a national mechanism for protecting human rights defenders and journalists in May 2015 has unfortunately not led to any improvement. Lacking staff and funding, this mechanism has yet to meet initial expectations. And in a country mired in corruption and impunity, it inspires no confidence in journalists.
In March 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) voiced concern about the mechanism’s ineffectiveness and made a number of recommendations, shared by RSF, for improving it.
“On the eve of this presidential election, we sound the alarm about the extremely dangerous environment in which Honduran journalists are operating,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
“The winner of this election, whoever he is, needs to address the difficult task of ending this spiral of violence and reviving the status of journalism in Honduras. This requires political will and concrete action to reinforce the protection and risk-prevention mechanisms in a sustainable manner, to combat impunity and to end the systematic censorship of those who criticize.”
State censorship, judicial proceedings
The Hernández administration has used all possible means to try to control reporting and gag critics. The community media and opposition press have in particular been subjected to measures that include restrictions on access to public information, difficulty getting accreditation, procedural harassment and threats.
Journalists who investigate violence, human rights violations, corruption, organized crime and organized crime’s infiltration of the state are the most likely to be the targets of reprisals.
The cases of Libertad TV director and presenter Ariel Armando D’Vicente, who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2016 on a defamation charge, and Julio Ernesto Alvarado, the target of prolonged judicial proceedings, are prime examples of how the authorities persecute critics.
A Radio Globo y TV presenter, Alvarado was prosecuted on a defamation charge in 2013 and was then banned from working as a journalist in 2015. RSF has issued many press releases about his case.
Many other journalists, who RSF met during a visit to Honduras last month, are embroiled in complex problems in which they are being targeted by organized crime or corrupt elected officials.
They include Jonny Lagos, the editor of the El Libertador newspaper, who escaped a murder attempt in Tegucigalpa on 26 August, Jairo Lopez, the victim of a major smear campaign and defamation proceedings marred by irregularities, and Milthon Robles, who fled to Spain in December 2016 to escape the threats he was getting in Honduras.
Honduras is ranked 140th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. In 2008, it was ranked 100th.