GUATEMALA In his inaugural speech on January 14, President Alfonso Portillo pledged to respect freedom of the press and expression. Nevertheless, on February 3, Canal 13 television said it would take the “T-Mas de Noche” news program off the air, a move which the print medium as well as the show’s chief, José Eduardo Zarco, said was due to government pressure. Canal 13 said it had to end the broadcast of the twice-weekly program “for commercial reasons.” It added that Zarco’s show did not pay for its airtime and the program was aired under a verbal contract owing to the irregular way Guatemalan television operates. The show produced by Zarco, a former member of the IAPA board of directors, adopted a critical stance toward the Portillo administration. Its closure was considered an attack on freedom of the press perpetrated by Mexican businessman Remigo Angel González, who owns four television channels in Guatemala. Although President Portillo said he personally spoke with González to reinstate the show, his Communications Minister, Luis Rabbé – a brother-in-law of the Mexican businessman – exercised influence in closing “T Mas.” Before joining Portillo’s cabinet, Rabbé had been Angel González’ leading media operations executive in Guatemala. There is a virtual alliance between Portillo and González. The latter had given the former about $2.5 million in free television advertising during the successful presidential campaign. Portillo also drew support from Gonzalez’s television stations’ news programs, which contributed significantly, to the electoral victory. The press has focused on the dangers posed by the fact that a foreigner owns four TV stations, two TV news programs, a radio news station and 20 commercial radio stations, which can influence the electorate by lending themselves to manipulation of campaign advertising. Following the complaints raised by the print medium over this situation, television and radio newscasts controlled by Gonzaléz started a smear campaign aimed principally at the daily Prensa Libre, hoping in vain to dent its credibility. The daily electronic media attacks also target independent newspapers as well as those that criticize the government. They have gone to the extreme of characterizing stories or commentaries written by Prensa Libre reporters and columnists as false, without bothering to verify their accuracy. When Portillo was a congressman, he proposed a bill in 1988 to reform the Law of Dissemination of Thought, with the aim of weakening the position of the press. As president, Portillo succeeded Alvaro Arzú, whose four-year rule was marked by numerous attacks on the press. The most negative among them was Arzú’s promotion of an advertising boycott of the independent magazine Crónica. The magazine’s owners withstood two years of persecution before finally opting to sell the publication to another editorial group, which had no clashes with the government. He also manipulated government advertising, placing it in favorable publications and suspending it in independent news organizations he sought to punish. The former president also used an advertising campaign on radio and television in which he attacked the credibility of the most important newspapers in the country. Through front companies, Arzú also created a radio program that attacked and discredited prominent journalists and independent news organizations. He undertook no measure to tackle the problem of the unpunished murders of journalists. One exception was the end-1999 conviction of the killers of Jorge Luis Marroquín, editor of the weekly Sol Chortí. The journalist was shot dead in 1997 in the eastern department of Chiquimula. Marroquín had reported on charges of corruption against Jocotán Mayor José Manuel Ohajaca, now a fugitive from justice after being accused of being behind the killing.