Report to the 70th General Assembly

Santiago, Chile

October 17 – 21, 2014

The climate of press freedom continues to be clouded by legal harassment of a media outlet and the government's policy of using official advertising to reward or punish media according to their editorial stance.

In September the government made it clear that it is engaging in a kind of spying on independent media when it made known, 12 hours before there were published in elPeriódico the results of a journalistic investigation according to which Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti had had an illicit accelerated enrichment.

The government published a true copy of the pages produced by the newspaper on its Web site, in which it was said that this was a "discrediting campaign" against the official. The explanation that was given was that employees of the newspaper filtered the pages to officials but did not present any proof. Sectors of civil society condemned the government's attempt to intimidate the newspaper with the anticipated publication of the report.

The newspaper and its founder, journalist José Rubén Zamora, has been the object of more than 20 lawsuits filed by governing party officials in an attempt at intimidation. Zamora has responded that he will not let them scare him and will continue his critical and watchdog journalism.

In July it was learned that the president of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS), Juan de Dios Rodríguez, had filed more than 30 lawsuits against Zamora and elPeriódico staff for the publication of op-ed pieces and commentaries that were said to have harmed his reputation. The charges are of sedition, public incitement, fomenting crime, calumny, libel and defamation.

An IAPA mission was in Guatemala early in the year and heard versions of the commercial strangling that elPeriódico had been subjected to. It is not only one of the media outlets where placement of official advertising has been suspended but President Otto Pérez himself and Vice President Roxana Baldetti have urged private sector advertisers to withdraw advertising from its pages. Zamora has said this commercial strangulation was having serious consequences.

Media that are not aligned to the government are also suffering from the cutback of official advertising, while those that do not criticize the government are getting huge quantities of such advertising.

Presidency Press Secretary Francisco Cuevas has acknowledged that elPeriódico is not being given any official advertising but denies that there is a commercial plot against it. Furthermore, he insists that reports in the newspaper usurp the government leaders' "privacy."

In another development, bodyguards of Vice President Baldetti beat up two elPeriódico reporters, Pavel Vega and Alex Cruz, who were seeking to cover a press conference being given by her precisely to speak about her properties. In addition to the beating the news photographer's camera was smashed.

There was no action taken against the bodyguards, despite a formal complaint having been made to the Attorney General's Office and the Human Rights Public Prosecutor.

On August 13 the signal of TV Santiago channel in the city of San Miguel Dueñas was cancelled on the orders of Mayor Julio Cesar Quiñones Hernández. Journalist and owner of the channel Mynor René Cáceres Arreola, said that the company that distributes the signal told him it would be cancelling broadcasting due to pressures from the mayor, annoyed by the TV channel's coverage of the state of violence in the city and its criticism of lack of action by the local government.

On July 22 journalist Abel Reyna Puac was attacked as he was covering in the town of San Francisco Zapotitlán an unlawful delivery of fertilizer.

In August the Guatemala Independent Media Center (CMI-G) reported that its members were the object of a series of attacks, including journalist Gustavo Illescas, over his coverage of evictions in Alta Verapaz province carried out by National Civil Police (PNC) officers and soldiers.

On June 26 in an editorial in Prensa Libre headlined "Ya no más llamadas, presidente Pérez" (No More Calls, President Pérez) the paper criticized the fact that Pérez had repeatedly called in its editor over reports that annoyed him.

In June it was complained that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and the Supreme Court had decided to limit reporters' free access to information. The Tribunal denied reports about sessions that it characterized as private and the Court prevented judges from being interviewed by prohibiting reporters from entering their offices.

The decision responded to a request for information by Prensa Libre on April 29.

On June 21 community radio stations Estéreo Luz and La Voz de Sonora, both in Quiché province, were violently raided by National Civil Police (PNC) officers on orders of the Attorney General's Office.

Estéreo Luz director Juan Tzul protested the violent action of the police who pointed their weapons at several people and did not produce any order to conduct a raid. Equipment was seized.

At La Voz de Sonora police detained one man and also confiscated broadcasting equipment.

In early October Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana promised the Guatemalan Journalists Association (APG) to ask the Public Prosecutor's Office for Crimes Against Journalists to give a report on progress in the criminal investigation into the murder of four journalists in 2013 and concerning the complaints of abuses of and attacks upon 75 journalists since 2012. The journalists murdered were Jaime Napoleón Jarquín Duarte, Luis Alberto Lemus Ruano, Luis de Jesús Lima and Carlos Humberto Orellana Chávez.