Honduran Arrests Can Affect News Media Landscape

Originally posted at Journalism and the World, Society of Professional Journalists

The US government arrested Honduran Yanki Rosenthal when he landed in Miami October 6 on charges of money laundering. The next day indictments were handed down for other members of his family.

While many in the world media are focusing on Yanki’s ownership of a major Honduran soccer team and the family’s ownership of the bank Grupo Continental, the reach of the Rosenthal family is much more extensive.

For journalists, the indictments hit close to home.

The Rosenthals own one of the major newspapers — El Tiempo — and a national TV outlet — Canal 11.

How the Honduran press handled the arrest and indictments clearly showed the biases

El Tiempo lead with:

The Continental Group issued a statement rejecting the accusations made Wednesday the Treasury Department of the United States, where several companies linked to the group of the crime of money laundering. Facing accusations Continental Group denies allegations of money laundering involving companies in the Continental Group.

Competitor El Heraldo, however, went with:

The US attorney in Manhattan announced charges Wednesday against four Hondurans by “laundering of proceeds of drug trafficking and bribery crimes through accounts in the United States.

Rolando Jaime Rosenthal Oliva, Yani Benjamin Rosenthal Hidalgo, Yankel Rosenthal and Andrew Acosta Garcia Coello “were charged in connection with a conspiracy carried out over several years to launder profits from drug crimes,” said the office of the Southern District of New York.

The newspapers — and television news outlets — have never been shy about showing off the political leanings of the owners. It will now be interesting to see how the news media handle the trials of one of the five big families of Honduras.

What will be important for foreign journalists to pay attention to will not be the cat fight that is sure to be played out in the front pages, but rather if (when) the number of life-threatening threats against journalists covering this case increases.

Journalists in Honduras have faced numerous threats — not so much from the government as from the narcos. Threats will most likely come against anyone digging deeply into this story.

THIS IS BIG! In the past, the US and Honduran governments have acted against drug kingpins and their holdings. This is the first time there is a major move against such a prominent family and such large corporate holdings in the country. Among those indicted are a former president of the country and a presidential candidate for the Liberal Party, the mainstream opposition party to the ruling National Party.

Grupo Continental is one of the largest banks in Honduras. Its holding extend deeply into Honduran society, including — as noted — the news media.

Under Honduran law, the property and goods of indicted individuals is put under the control of the Administrative Office of Seized Goods (OABI). When a major narco was arrested, OABI took over control of his private zoo, which was occasionally opened to the public. OABI brought in animal experts to evaluate and run the zoo and kept it open to the public. (The narco zoo was much larger than the Tegucigalpa Zoo, but the animals were in much worse shape.)

Seized gym equipment was donated to outreach centers to help keep young people active in safe (non-gang related) activities. Likewise, OABI arranged for a boat, including fuel and maintenance for the boat, so a school in Cayos Cochinos could make sure the kids got an education. (The islands are inhabited by some of the poorest people in Honduras.)

The director of OABI fought corrupt bosses and politicians before he rose to the top job. Once he took command of the organization, he made sure everything was handled by the book. (In other words, no more seized cars for a political leader, just because he wants one.)

The director understands and operates OABI under a transparent and open system. He also understands that fighting back against intimidation is important part of beating corruption. His heart and mind are in the right place to allow El Tiempo and Channel 11 operate as fair and independent news outlets, if they are seized under the law.

He might even appoint a director of the newspaper and TV channel who will encourage the journalists in those groups to step out from the partisan restrictions of the current owners. And maybe even help arrange for some additional training.

And if anyone is looking for a success story about the fight against corruption, a profile of OABI and its director is a good place to start.

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Filed under Central America, Corruption

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