Wendy Funes defies pressures to silence Honduran journalists

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”99928″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]“There have been deaths in the country, there are members of the military involved in extrajudicial executions, there is a culture of murdering people.” This is what Wendy Funes, winner of the 2018 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship for Journalism, tells Index about the dangers of reporting critically of Honduras’ authorities.

Such risks don’t deter Funes, whose online news outlet, Reporteros de Investigacion, reported on 8 June 2018 that members of a Honduran military unit allegedly engaged in inappropriate behaviour towards young female students. The unit was conducting seminars in schools on the dangers of drugs and collecting the personal information of pupils without parental consent. In at least one case, a member of the unit was texting sexually harassing messages to who he thought was a pupil, but was actually the pupil’s mother.

Two days later, a fake article claiming that the military programme was pushing gangs out of schools was being shared on WhatsApp groups. The piece used the Reportero de Investigacion logo.

“I didn’t think this type of story would receive such a response — which is one of the mildest that has ever happened to me — because I know the capacity in which the military operates,” Funes says. “The murder of journalists is a big problem — murdered women have been found in the cars of military officials and staff — and impunity only makes these killings easier to carry out.”

Funes says journalists with a high profile and who are seen to be an “inconvenience” are most at risk, especially “young people who adhere to certain stereotypes of rebelliousness”. Reporteros de Investigacion draws a large readership in what is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist.

Soon after the exposé on the military, a failed cyber attack was made on the publication’s website. “They weren’t able to compromise our digital security,” Funes says. She reported the attack to the Mecanismos de Protección Ciudadana (Citizen Protection Mechanisms), a government body tasked with protecting fundamental rights, including protection for journalists and human rights defenders. “Progress has been very slow and it hasn’t received very much attention,” she says. “The state has begun an investigation and has named a prosecutor, Luani Alvarado, but she is one of the prosecutors that I have been denouncing because she has repeatedly refused to grant me information.”

Funes was offered a police escort, but being aware of abuses by the police and military — not least those cases exposed in her own publication — she refused.

Such a pressurised media environment exacerbates the problem of self-censorship among Honduras’ journalists. Funes puts the blame on fear. “I lived it when I was working for the monopoly media corporations; I self-censored, as did a lot of my colleagues, in order to be able to keep working in these companies,” she says, explaining that the reasons differ from region to region. “Journalists in the Atlantic coast self-censor for the fear of organised crime, and in other places they self-censor when there are protests, because of the risk or danger this might put them in.”

The solution, she says, has very little to do with the actions of journalists and a lot to do with changing the environment in which they work. “When there is democratisation, when the owners of the media respect the thoughts and views of the journalist and when journalists come out of journalism school better prepared for these situations, then we will defeat self-censorship,” she says. “If the structure does not change, we can not talk about concrete things.”

Funes wants to put an end to censorship overall, which she says has let her country down so many times. Working with her in this aim, Index helped her secure the funding to provide legal support for Reporteros de Investigacion. “We needed a legal society that is able to accept funds and other means of sustainability, which cost money, and that’s where Index came in, helping us raise the seed capital,” she says. The publication is now partnered with Investigaciones y Comunicaciones (Indica) and can engage in  commercial activities.

“It has been an emotional moment,” Funes says. “Our plan is to grow at a slow but firm pace, and our dream to found the first centre for investigative journalism in Honduras.” The next step is to register with the chamber of commerce in Tegucigalpa.

The publication relies on the work of volunteers and so being financially self-sustainable is a key aim. “Once we can achieve that this, more doors will open — in addition to the ones Index has already opened for us,” Funes says.

Index has also helped Funes develop a strategic plan and other tools for institutional development. Funes and her team are currently working on at least eight investigations, including challenging Honduras’ white-collar crime culture, which has “caused so many problems for the most vulnerable in society”.

Working to sustain both herself and her newspaper takes much physical and emotional effort, which can be very difficult as her days are always full. In addition to her reporting, Funes is also working towards a master’s degree in criminology and has enrolled in an investigative journalism course. “Contact with Index has helped me to be self-critical and improve every day,” Funes says. “My country deserves it, which is why I educate myself. And I hope all these sacrifices have a reward.”

“Given the criminal culture that exists in Honduras, we have been made invisible and have been ignored, but the recognition from Index and international support networks has been a motivator and helped us rediscover the value of doing journalism that is ethical, honest and rigorous.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_column_text]

Awards Fellowship

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Index works with the winners of the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship to help them achieve goals through a 12-month programme of capacity building, coaching and strategic support.

Through the fellowships, Index seeks to maximise the impact and sustainability of voices at the forefront of pushing back censorship worldwide.

Learn more about the Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1536910697061-1f209759-d0f6-6″ taxonomies=”28014, 9128, 10735″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Honduras: False story seeks to discredit digital newspaper Reporteros de Investigacion

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”100749″ img_size=”full”][vc_column_text]Two days after the publication of an investigation into alleged inappropriate behaviour by a member of a Honduran military unit involving young female students, digital newspaper Reportero de Investigacion was targeted with a misleading story that purported to be from the outlet.

The news outlet, which was founded by 2018 Freedom of Expression Awards Fellowship winner Wendy Funes, had posted an 8 June 2018 article which exposed how members of a military unit were going into schools, teaching children without parental consent or notification, collecting personal information and, in at least one case, texting sexually harassing messages under the guise of the “No Drugs, Live Better” programme. The Reportero de Investigacion article included screenshots of a text conversation between a mother and a military officer. The officer thought they were texting the woman’s daughter. 

The publication drew a large amount of the attention in Honduras, which is one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist. 

Two days later, a faked article began appearing that used the Reportero de Investigacion logo and included screenshots from gang members who discussed the difficulties of distributing drugs, claiming they had less access after the military had begun its in-school training programme. The false article is being shared on WhatsApp groups among members of the law enforcement community in Honduras, Funes told Index on Censorship. 

This is not the first time that fake news stories have been circulated in Honduras to discredit the work of investigative journalists and human rights activists and undermine their personal security.

For Funes, it is vital that the appropriate government agencies investigate these false publications. She said she will be addressing a complaint to the new Honduran Special Prosecutor for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Operators, (FEPRODDHH), which has the responsibility for determining where the faked article purporting to be from reporterosdeinvestigación.com came from.

“For us it is necessary to carry out an investigation, although we do not have the certainty that it is a smear campaign against our newspaper, we believe that an investigation is urgent to determine the origin of the messages and the State has the tools necessary to do it.” Funes said.

Perla Hinojosa, fellowships and advocacy officer at Index on Censorship said: “It’s important to call out efforts to discredit the investigative work of journalists like Wendy. Even though this was not a direct physical threat, the spread of false information undermines Wendy’s news organisation, which seeks justice and identifies human rights abuses.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1528734389898-5507b00f-068d-2″ taxonomies=”23255″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Media freedom in Honduras: “The noose is tightening”

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“The noose is tightening around the Honduran people more than ever,” says Dana Frank, professor at UC Santa Cruz, specialising in human rights and US policy in post-coup Honduras, adding that with this comes increased repression of the media.

With political turmoil and protests following the 2017 re-election of president Juan Orlando Hernández, repression of information has become commonplace in Honduras. According to Amnesty International, at least 31 people were killed in the aftermath of the election, with hundreds more arrested or detained. Reporters Without Borders ranked Honduras 140th in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

Journalists reporting on corruption and violence in Honduras regularly deal with violence and the risk of death for their work — including investigative journalist Wendy Funes, a nominee for Index on Censorship’s 2018 Freedom of Expression Award for Journalismwhile perpetrators often go unpunished.

“What’s amazing is that corruption is highly documented. For example, the government itself and the attorney general have confirmed the evidence that as much $90 million was stolen by the ruling party and the Juan Orlando campaign in 2013 from the national health service. They siphoned it into their campaigns,” says Frank. “The evidence of corruption is out there. The problem is that the attorney general and the government don’t act on the evidence.”

According to Honduras National Commission for Human Rights, over 70 journalists and other media workers were killed in Honduras between 2001 and August of 2017. PEN International reports that violence against journalists continued despite the Honduran government’s pledge at the United Nations in May 2015 to improve its human rights record. Journalists have begun to silence themselves out of fear for their lives.

“Over the years, the situation has been deteriorating and getting worse in regards to freedom of expression,” Honduran journalist Dina Meza told Index on Censorship in February 2018. “Therefore, what journalists and social communicators have started to do is self-censor.”

As recently as 13 February 2018, one Honduran television reporter, César Omar Silva, was the victim of an attempted on-air stabbing. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Silva said that a nearby police officer and hospital worker told the man to stop but did not try to detain him or take his weapon. The attacker escaped.

This wasn’t the first time Silva was attacked for his work. He was kidnapped and tortured after he covered human rights violations around the 2009 coup.

Censorship by the government goes beyond attempting to silence journalists; it also restricts the information government agencies are allowed to release to the media and the public. A 2014 law assigned responsibility for releasing information to individual government agencies, instead of the more independent Institute for Public Access to Information. As a result, government transparency and the public’s right to information suffered.

“It really is a reign of terror. The government used live bullets against a labour strike on 9 March, and that’s new,” says Frank. “What’s amazing is that people are reclaiming democracy and going to the streets even though they know they could get killed.”

Frank echoed sentiments written by Dina Meza in a September 2013 article for Index on Censorship magazine.  “In a democracy, criminal investigations would be the appropriate means to bring these culprits to justice,” said Meza, “but in what is an essentially failed state with a collapsed infrastructure, anyone who is determined to speak out risks their life.”

As journalists in Honduras face harsh censorship, those who continue to work and speak out must be supported and defended. Without this the corruption and repression in post-coup Honduras would go undocumented. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”12″ style=”load-more” items_per_page=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1524040544190-383fec9d-ea6d-2″ taxonomies=”8996″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

#IndexAwards2018: Wendy Funes fearlessly pursues investigative journalism in Honduras

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Wendy Funes is an investigative journalist from Honduras who regularly risks her life for her right to report on what is going on in the country.

She is a courageous female voice, writing in a violent and corrupt society where two journalists have been killed this year and where women are regularly subjected to severe domestic violence and often killed.2018 Freedom of Expression Awards link

Funes is an inventive and passionate human rights reporter. For one article she got her own death certificate issued so that she could show up the corruption in the civil registration office. For another she dressed as a beggar for an investigation into children being forced to beg on the streets of the country’s capital.

She writes about violence against women, a huge problem in Honduras where one woman is killed every 16 hours, and the number of women killed has increased by more than 260% between 2005 and 2013.

But Funes is also an activist for her profession, which led to her being expelled from the journalism trade union where she had been fighting for labour rights and freedom of expression.

I have overcome many traumas, including the violent deaths of my father and several friends and fellow journalists, for which no one has been brought to justice,” said Funes. “I will not succumb to despair – every blow has made me a warrior, and every obstacle is a chance to prove that adversity must never stop us. Only those who has suffered dark will search for the light. My way to achieve my life’s purpose is the journalism I love, which quickens my heart in moments of greatest expectation, which brings joy and sorrow. Through independent, self-critical, methodical journalism – the kind that comes from the streets – combined with an academic grounding, I am convinced I can bring change to my country.”

Working for C-Libre, a freedom of expression organisation in Honduras, she highlighted the continued murder of journalists by organising a march which she called the Demonstration of Silence to protest the death of journalists. Protesters carried white cardboard coffins with the faces of each of the journalists on them to the prosecutors’ office in the capital Tegucigalpa.

In 2017 Wendy Funes was helped by PressStart, a global crowdfunding platform for reporters in countries where the press cannot report freely, to write an expose of gang rapes of indigenous Lenca women in the La Paz area of Honduras.

On May 31, 2017  Funes retired from C-Libre to found her own research newspaper and promote investigative journalism in her country, using data with a gendered approach and promoting transparency and access to public information.

“This nomination is like an embrace of trust in the darkness of death and risk implied by the asphyxiating level of censorship that the press experiences in Honduras,” said Funes. “It’s like a hand reaching out to me to tell me it’s worth resisting this corrupt and unfair system.” 

See the full shortlist for Index on Censorship’s Freedom of Expression Awards 2018 here.


Wendy Funes y su valiente defensa del periodismo de investigación en Honduras

Wendy Funes es una periodista de investigación hondureña que pone su vida en peligro con regularidad: es el precio que paga a cambio de su derecho a informar sobre lo que está pasando en el país.

Es la valerosa voz de una mujer escribiendo en una sociedad violenta y corrupta, en la que dos periodistas han sido asesinados en lo que va de año. Un país en el que las mujeres sufren violencia doméstica extrema a diario y son a menudo asesinadas.

Funes es una reportera pro derechos humanos ingeniosa y apasionada. Hizo que expidieran su propio certificado de defunción para desvelar en un artículo la corrupción del registro civil. Para otro reportaje, se disfrazó de pordiosera para investigar sobre los niños forzados a mendigar en las calles de la capital del país.

Escribe sobre la violencia contra las mujeres, un problema gravísimo en Honduras, donde matan a una mujer cada 16 horas y la cifra de asesinadas se incrementó más de un 260% entre 2005 y 2013.

Funes también es una activista dentro de su profesión, razón por la cual fue expulsada del sindicato de periodismo desde el que había estado luchando por los derechos laborales y la libertad de expresión.

«He superado muchos traumas, entre ellos, las muertes violentas de mi padre y de varios amigos y compañeros periodistas, por las cuales nadie ha sido llevado ante la justicia», declaró Funes. «No sucumbiré a la desesperación: cada golpe me ha hecho una guerrera, y cada obstáculo no es más que una oportunidad de demostrar que la adversidad nunca debe detenernos. Solo quienes han sufrido la oscuridad buscarán la luz. El modo que tengo para cumplir mi propósito en la vida es el periodismo al que amo, el que hace que se me acelere el corazón en momentos de inmensa esperanza, el que me trae alegrías y tristezas. Con periodismo independiente, autocrítico, metódico —el tipo de periodismo que viene de las calles—, combinado con conocimientos académicos, estoy convencida de que puedo traer el cambio a mi país».

Cuando trabajaba para C-Libre, una organización por la libertad de expresión en Honduras, organizó una marcha a la que llamó la Manifestación del Silencio en protesta contra los continuos asesinatos de periodistas. Los manifestantes cargaron con ataúdes de cartón blanco con retratos de cada uno de los periodistas asesinados hasta la fiscalía de la capital, Tegucigalpa.

En 2017 Wendy Funes recibió apoyo de PressStart, una plataforma de crowdfunding global para reporteros en países donde la prensa no puede informar libremente, con el cual escribió un reportaje destapando las violaciones grupales de mujeres indígenas lencas en la zona hondureña de La Paz.

El 31 de mayo de 2017, Funes se retiró de C-Libre para fundar su propio periódico de investigación y promover este tipo de periodismo en su país, promoviendo la utilización de los datos desde una perspectiva de género, la transparencia y el acceso a información pública.

«Esta nominación es como un abrazo de confianza en la oscuridad de la muerte y el peligro implícitos en el asfixiante nivel de censura que vive la prensa en Honduras», declaró Funes. «Es como si me hubieran extendido una mano para decirme que merece la pena resistir a este sistema corrupto e injusto».

Traducción de Arrate Hidalgo

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