We have known for some time that the life of a journalist in Honduras is dangerous.(Hell, living in Honduras is dangerous.)
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 18 journalists have been killed since January 1, 2010. The Committee To Protect Journalists puts the number at 17 since 1992 but only five killings could be directly related to the journalists’ work. (CPJ and RSF have different methods. Face it, Honduras is a dangerous place and some killings could have been “wrong place, wrong time” type of incidents with nothing to do with the journalists’ work. But that does not negate the dangers.)
The situation is not getting any better. But that is not stopping the Honduran media from doubling down on its efforts.
El Heraldo has been running a series of hard-hitting and penetrating investigative pieces on corruption within the police department and other government agencies. Other papers have also been pursuing reports of corruption and wanton violence in the country.
And the corrupt forces — from the narcos and gangs to the police — are pushing back.
Yesterday (11/23), the Honduran National Commissioner of Human Rights told international organizations and the media that freedom of the press in Honduras was under attack.
The director of the commission, Ramón Custodio, condemned acts of intimidation against journalists and editors of newspapers and broadcasters in recent days. He said reporters and editors were subjected to threats to physical integrity, life and freedom of expression.
Custodio added that threats to journalists have increased since the news organizations have stepped up their coverage of corruption, organized crime networks and drug traffickers operating within the National Police.
This comes on the heels of Pres. Lobo calling for a meeting with media leaders to discuss reporting and national security. Given the state of affairs in the country, not a few people are concerned that the meeting might be some sort of method to intimidate the media.
One ex-pat who has lived in Honduras for a number of years summarized the problem:
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.
No one denies the situation in Honduras is tense. The murder rate is the highest in the world. Corruption is rampant and the media reports are putting more pressure to clean up the situation, which threatens a lot of very dangerous people. The drug cartels are using northern Honduras as their own personal staging area. And all this while Pres. Lobo is trying to bring the country back together after the coup in 2009.
To be honest, I would not want Lobo’s job.
One of the positive things to take away from the upsurge in media harassment and intimidation is the fact that the reporting is hitting sore points. The media are doing what H.L. Menken said they should do, “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
So far the intimidation (and killings) are coming from corrupt and criminal elements as opposed to being an official set of actions from the government. But many the institutions in the government are infiltrated by corrupt elements, making a full-scale clean up difficult.
That is where the free press comes in.
Back to that ex-pat blogger, La Gringa:
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.
It is significant that many Hondurans agree that the rampant corruption reported in the police force and other government agencies will be addressed and solved thanks to increased pressure from the free and independent media in the country. Yes, there are issues of some reporters being bought off and “getting along.” But there are also enough honest reporters, editors and publishers that the bad apples are seen for what they are.
Besides, the corrupt and criminal elements don’t care about the corrupt reporters. They care about the good ones. And so far, the good ones are setting the tone.
Thanks to the investigative reporting of El Heraldo and others, there is a better understanding of the breadth and depth of the problem. (Rather than just anecdotal accounts.) The reporting and a growing revulsion against the violence is leading to more demonstrations and activities by civic organizations pushing back against the violence. The Youth Against Violence movement in Honduras is growing stronger each day. As are other civic organizations.
For the sake of Honduran society and stability in the area, let us hope that the anti-violence groups grow and that more civic groups step forward to strengthen the democratic institutions in Honduras. And one of the most vital institutions for democracy and a civil society are free media.