RSF sounds alarm on violence against media in Guatemala
Reporters Without Borders urges the Guatemalan authorities to move quickly to rein in the spiral of violence against journalists and provide them with lasting protection after local TV host Víctor Hugo Valdez Cardona yesterday became the fourth broadcast journalist to be killed this year in Guatemala.
Based in the eastern city of Chiquimula and host of Chiquimula de Visión, a cultural programme he had presented for the past 27 years, Víctor Hugo Valdez Cardona was gunned down on a Chiquimula street by two helmeted individuals on a motorcycle. He was also a doctor. The local police have begun an investigation.
Chiquimula Journalists’ Association president Gerson Rodas said Valdez had never received any threats and that his murder could be an “attempt to intimidate all of the media in Chiquimula department.”
This year’s three other broadcast journalism victims were all radio presenters. No suspects have so far been identified and the motives have yet to be determined. The three victims were:
- Roberto Salazar Barahona, 32, the manager of Estéreo Azúcar. Hitmen gunned him down on 17 March in Asunción Mita, in the southeastern department of Jutiapa (near the border with El Salvador).
- Winston Leonardo Túnchez Cano, a Radio La Jefa presenter who was gunned down on 8 April in a grocery in the southern department of Escuintla.
- Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar, a presenter on Radio Sembrador, who was shot by three gunmen on 30 April in the northern city of Ixcán. Radio Sembrador’s director reported last year that the station was a frequent target of harassment.
“How many more journalists will have to be murdered in Guatemala before the authorities start worrying about their protection,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk.
“The justice system must identify and try those responsible for this violence and stop the flood of murders. And, as a matter of urgency, the authorities must ratify the creation of a national mechanism for the protection of journalists that has been discussed since November 2013. Guatemala’s journalists cannot continue to work in this climate of fear and self-censorship, which has silenced many media outlets.”
Armed violence is unfortunately not the only form of intimidation to which media personnel are subjected in Guatemala. The prosecutor’s office for crimes against journalists said on 1 May that a total of 256 cases of threats, intimidation and aggressive behaviour towards journalists had been reported since January 2015.
In a recent case, journalists with the weekly Contra Poder were the target of insults and threats on false Twitter accounts after it published a story on 22 April about fraudulent activity by former presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón. Contra Poder editor Luis Font and Asier Andrés, the article’s author, were both directly threatened on social networks.
Grupo A, the company that owns Contra Poder, said such attacks and smear campaigns against its journalists have become routine since 2013. A complaint has been filed with the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor and with the special rapporteur for freedom of expression at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
In a report published in March about the situation in Guatemala, the IACHR said journalists are finding it very hard to work properly, especially those who try to cover corruption and human rights. Intimidation of independent journalists and media outlets is restricting free speech, the report said.
Guatemala is ranked 121st out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index that RSF published in April.