US ambassador shows support for Honduran media

(Yes this is personal)

Yesterday the Honduran media got a big shout from my wife.

She visited the newspaper offices of La Tribuna and El Heraldo following a shooting at the offices of La Tribuna and the killing of another journalist.

On Monday the La Tribuna office was riddled with bullets, wounding a building security guard. Yesterday, a reporter was shot while she was test driving a vehicle she thinking of buying.

My wife went to the media outlets to express the support of the U.S. government for freedom of the press and to call on the Honduran people to support efforts to bring those who threaten journalists to justice.

For me, the best headline came from El Heraldo: Honduras should be grateful for what journalists do: Kubiske

Besides pointing out that free and independent media are important to democracy and a civic society, she also noted that the Honduran society has to rise up and stand up to the corruption and violence that is so dominant in the country. She said that the support of the citizens is vital to continued efforts by journalists to expose and address the problems in the country.

“America stands with you … but it also requires the support of the entire Honduran society. It is the community that has to defend the work of journalists. You can not practice good journalism if the people do not support” she said. (Google Translate)

“Estados Unidos está con ustedes… pero también se requiere el apoyo de toda la sociedad hondureña. Es la comunidad la que tiene que defender el trabajo de los periodistas. No se puede ejercer bien el periodismo si el pueblo no los apoya”, comentó. (Original text)

Lisa at meeting in La Tribuna (From La Tribuna website)

Recently there have been more people and groups speaking out against the violence and corruption. And of course those being affected by the exposure are pushing back. Hence the increase in violence.

The attack on La Tribuna was clearly a message to the paper from someone who objected to any discussion of cleaning up the police or stopping the narcos. (It recently ran a series of investigative pieces on corruption within the national police.) Likewise the numerous threats reporters and editors have received lately are also clearly related to the job the journalists are doing to investigate corruption in the country.

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Monday’s attack on Luz Marina Paz, however, is not so cut and dry.

Wrong place? Wrong time?

Honduras is a violent country. It is murder capital for the world with 88 murders per 100,000 people. (The U.S. rate is 5 per 100,000.)

And the level of corruption is very high. (Transparency International ranks Honduras near the bottom of its honesty/transparency scale at #129 out of 182 countries and #26 of 32 for the Americas.)

There is no doubt that journalists are being targeted in this corrupt and violent atmosphere. Yet, not all killings of journalists are necessarily directly related to journalism.

The Committee to Protect Journalists makes a clear distinction between killings related to work and killings. According to the CPJ since 1992 five journalists were killed because of their work. Another 13 journalists were killed for reasons as of yet undetermined.

Other groups such as Reporters Without Borders do not make such distinctions. Nor, does it seem, do the Honduran media.

In a society where only two reasons for shootings seem to hold — “Revenge and Unknown” — it is difficult to claim that every killing of a journalist [or any other profession] is directly related to the job. Some times it really is “Wrong place. Wrong time.”

The case of Paz seems less about her journalism and more about the dominance of criminal elements in the country.

One theory put forth in the press at this time is that Paz refused to pay a “war tax” to the gangs in the area. This “tax” is nothing more than old-fashioned extortion or “protection” money demanded by gangs. Paz apparently ran a small booth at a weekend flea market.

Another possibility is that the gunmen could have mistaken her for someone else. The vehicle she was driving was being sold by an army general. Paz was interested in the truck and was test driving it with a mechanic.

Also, Paz was not known for reports that “rubbed people the wrong way.”

So at this point there is little to point to her killing as a direct result of her journalism career.

Personal views

I like that CPJ makes a difference between the killings that were carried out because of a person’s job and those done for as-of-yet unknown reasons. It helps focus attention on attacks against journalists who are seriously “afflicting the comfortable” as any good journalist should do.

Some media reports use the attacks on journalists to highlight the overall problem of random violence. (And it is a BIG problem), just as a woman’s group or youth group would use figures from their demographics to drive home a larger point. And that is all well and good. But it is — in my humble opinion — wrong to flat-out claim that all killings of journalists in Honduras are a direct result of that journalist’s work. It is equally wrong to claim — as some folks with a political agenda have — that the government condones the killings.

As I have noted before, this situation will only improve once the people of Honduras rise up and say, “No More!”

It goes beyond killings of journalists. The corruption and distrust is quickly becoming part of the national DNA.

Just the other day I was informed of the rape of a 13-year old girl. She was grabbed and raped on her way to school.

All indications are that the family knows the members of the gang — yes multiple — who committed the rape. But they are afraid to file charges because at the least, the police will do nothing because the police are in the pay of the gang or — at worst — once the gang finds out they have been “denounced” (because of the corrupt police), they will come and kill all members of the family.

The family of a young girl will do nothing other than comfort their child because they are afraid of retribution.

We have heard stories like this all around the country. People who went to the police to file charges of family abuse and rape quickly become the victims. And often at the hands of the local authorities.

As I said, it will take a lot of brave people standing up to the gangs and corruption.

At least a free media can give these people a voice, if they decide to use it. But first they have to decide.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption, Honduras, Press Freedom

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