In the United States the First Amendment protects journalists from being “banned” by government edict — or by any type of edict for that matter.
Journalists in other countries, however, are not so lucky. The latest example of why this is a bad idea comes out of Honduras.
Seems commentator Julio Ernesto Alvarado of Globo TV has been hit with a 16-month ban on “doing journalism” by the Penal Appeals Court in Tegucigalpa.
Now, I know the Globo people. They are serious anti-government types — unless the government is the leftist Libre party. The commentators are passionate in their denunciations of the ruling party. And even sometimes go over the edge of good taste.
But that all pales in the outrage that a government agency can tell a person he/she cannot be a journalist.
Whenever governments get involved, all sorts of bad things have the potential to happen. And Mr. Alvarado is seeing the results.
The issue stems from episodes of Alvarado’s show that discussed corruption in the national university. A dean was accused of corruption by teachers in the school on the show. The dean filed charges of defamation of character against Alvarado and the teachers and lost.
Under appeal the dean won , even though the court operated under the assumption that the dean had indeed engaged in corrupt practices.
With the dean’s victory came the ban on Alvarado from doing journalism.
So we have a cowonurt deciding who can be a journalist. Not a good idea.
And we have a system where truth is not an absolute defense for libel and defamation. (As it is in the States.)
In addition to the court ruling Alvarado has been receiving threats that — according to Globo — have not been taken seriously by the government. (On this point, I have serious questions. Some of the leadership brought in under the new government take protection of journalists VERY seriously.)
What is clear, however, that free and independent journalism is threatened by any law or system that allows a government agency of any type to determine who can be a journalist. Likewise, it is a danger when a court or other government entity can ban someone from “doing journalism.” And it is a danger when any private group — such as a journalism association — has the power to determine who can “do journalism.”
The bottom line is that the way to fight bad journalism is with more (and better) journalism, not by denying anyone who wants to from entering the fray.
Read more about the Alvarado case at PEN: Honduras: PEN member barred from journalism after covering corruption in state university