Honduras: self-censorship is media's daily bread
Olga Iris Mencia Barcenas describes conditions after the coup
03 Aug 09

This is a guest post by Olga Iris Mencia Barcenas

In the aftermath of the coup against elected-president Manuel Zelaya Rosales, whose mandate was supposed to end in January 2010, press freedom in Honduras has been seriously restricted. The 28 June coup took place as a non-binding referendum was scheduled to be held on possible changes to the constitution. A victory for Zelaya would have paved the way for an additonal referendum on constitutional reform to be held in November together with the presidential election. The opposition and armed forces argued that the real aim was to strengthen the president’s hold on power and remove the one-term limit on the presidency stated in the constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled that the consultation was illegal and Zelaya was forced to flee the country, still in his pyjamas. Roberto Micheletti, a little-known businessman, was hailed as the new head of state and proceeded to temporarily suspend constitutional and individual guarantees, persuading the population that this measure was necessary in order to restore calm and stability. So the coup was accomplished and civil liberties virtually suspended. Freedom of speech stands out among violated rights.

On the day of the coup Allan McDonald, a cartoonist for the newspaper El Diaro was arrested. He was later released and immediately fled the country. The state-run television channel Canal 8 was soon taken off the air. The same happened to Canal 36, owned by the pro-Zelaya journalist Esdras Amado Lopez, who had been running a pro-referendum campaign. Canal 26 presenter Osmand Danilo Corea, journalist Jorge Orlando Anderson and Colon-district reporter Nahum Palacios were also arrested.

Radio Globo, the only broadcaster to report critically on the coup, is now back on the air, thanks to the pressure of honest district attorneys and protection offered by groups linked to the opposition. Its owner was arrested, the building ransacked and employees were attacked. Its editor in chief, David Romero, jumped from a window to escape the soldiers, while presenter Luis Galdamez was arrested.

A few days later Gabriel Fino Noriega, who worked for a local radio station, was shot dead by unknown individuals on the way to his studio.

The only independent magazine, the monthly El Libertador, didn’t even print its June edition due to repeated threats to its editor, Jhoni Lagos. The highly respected Radio Progreso was shut down on several occasions and its presenter Romel Alexander Gomez jailed.

The Committee of Families of those Detained-Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH) saw its regular show cancelled by the state-channel that used to host it. This followed a COFADEH report that detailed 1,161 cases of human rights violations perpetrated under Micheletti’s rule.

The repression of opposition media reached its peak on 12 July, when a crew of Venezuela’s Telesura TV were detained and interrogated in their hotel for five hours. They were later escorted to the border and ordered to leave the country.

Many journalists keep on working despite the risks, which have become even greater since Pesident Zelaya clearly stated his intention in coming back and reclaim the power.

With the overwhelming majority of private media supporting the coup, a frightening silence is obscuring whatever happens in this small Latin-American country. The media still in place is censored, journalists are persecuted and self-censorship is their daily bread.

Translation by Giulio D’Eramo

Read ARTICLE 19’s Agnes Callamard’s analysis of media in Honduras here