Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016


In this period the exercise of freedom of expression and of the press was subject to such factors as the murder of a journalist, aggressions, intimidations, censorship and cyber attacks.

The state of safety of the news media and journalists continues to be critical. Up to September 22 the Journalists Observatory of the Center of News Reports on Guatemala (Cerigua) recorded 47 abuses of the press. In the same period the Public Prosecutor's Office for Offenses Against Journalists received 76 formal complaints.

On June 25 the murder occurred of Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno López, journalist and director of the radio station Estéreo Ilusión in the city of Coatepeque, Quetaltenango province. The journalist, 65, died some hours after suffering an armed attack a few yards from his home. He hosted the news program "Acontecer Coatepecano" and the segment titled "If you don't say so, who will?" which dealt with issues of health, safety, education and the local administration, among other topics of interest to the community.

Other journalists murdered in this period and whose cases are still under investigation into whether they may be linked to their work in the press are: Winston Leonardo Túnchez Cano (April 8), Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar (April 30), Víctor Hugo Valdés Cardona (June 7), Felipe David Munguía Jiménez (September 4) and Ana Leonor Guerra Olmedo (September 9).

On March 24 in the Historical Center of the capital reporter Gabriela López of Prensa Libre was intimidated during a clash between some people and agents of the National Civil Police. On at least two further occasions journalists from the same paper have been threatened by supposed family members seeking to identify victims of armed attacks.

On July 7 in the village of El Tablón, Sololá province, some 30 local community leaders intimidated journalists covering a police raid on a workshop.

On April 17 unidentified persons attempted to kill journalist William Omar Cabrera Monterroso of Cable Gardenias television and news radio Despertar Occidental of Coatepeque, Quetzalenango province. He suffered a bullet wound to the left hand, which led to the amputation of a finger. The attack occurred at the entrance to his home.

On April 27 journalists of the "A Group," a media consortium made up of Canal Antigua, ContraPoder and Diario Digital, reported death threats and harassments of them after publishing the results of an investigation into a million-dollar business in which was said to be involved Manuel Baldozón, a former presidential candidate for the Renovated Democratic Freedom party (Líder). The threats were made through social media and even there have been created false profiles of the journalists and their families with the same objective. In one of the messages sent on Twitter Asier Andrés, in charge of the investigation, was directly threatened. These threats were understood to be related to the report "Manuel Baldizon's Penultimate Business," published by the weekly ContraPoder in its April 22 edition.

On June 23 correspondents working in Quiché province, Óscar Figueroa of Prensa Libre, Héctor Cordero of Guatevisión and Jorge Chávez of TCN, denounced in the Public Prosecutor's Office an act of intimidation while they were heading to a coverage. A shot was fired at them from a farm vehicle. No one was injured.

On July 12 in San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango the mayor intimidated journalists who questioned him about a water problem in the community. He asked them that if something happened to them "who was going to look after their children?" and added "be very careful."

On August 10 journalist Marvin Túnchez of the province of Suchitepéquez reported that he was receiving death threats. He had suffered a bullet wound in an attack on March 10, 2015 in the downtown park of Mazatenango, the main city of the province, in which were killed correspondents Danilo López of Prensa Libre and Federico Salazar of Radio Nuevo Mundo.

There have also been reported two cases of censorship and cyber attacks on the Web site of a television channel. On March 1 Guatevisión reported that its Web site was the target of some 1,663 cyber attacks. This resulted in users having difficulties in accessing the news. According to the channel the attacks were local but carried out through Asian networks.

Although the Guatemalan Constitution and the Law on Emission of Thought protect the practice of journalism and confidentiality of sources, prosecutors and judges engage in constant demands for submission or delivery of personal testimonies or audio and video archives to use them as evidence in trials in which due to their authorship it is sought to determine that a reporter is involved. These demands were especially common in the work of the previous Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, and continue being practices allowed by the current Attorney General, Thelma Aldana.

Prensa Libre denounced this trend on May 30 for the constant pressures received by its reporters and editors from officials of the Public Prosecutor's Office for them to reveal their sources, which has become a procedure of intimidation of journalists and has given rise to self-censorship.

The Public Prosecutor's Office apologized to Prensa Libre, saying it had been determined that those actions were taken without consultation.

There is intolerance of criticism on the part of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales and Vice President Jafeth Cabrera, who on various occasions have objected to and discredited the media.

On September 19 the president declared that the criticisms of his government were due to the fact that it was not paying for official advertising in certain media. "It's over, there's no more advertising ... Forgive me if that is the pain of the news media, forgive me!" he shouted in a public ceremony irritated by publications about an act of corruption in the Property General Registry in which are involved his son José Manuel Morales and his brother Samuel Morales.

On September 20 the government ordered heavy restrictions on the press through a decree to regulate coverage of floods. It sought "to require organs of publicity or diffusion to avoid all those publications that in the judgment of the authorities contribute to or incite public disorder." This went on to be revoked.

On October 13, the governor of the department of Quetzaltenango, Claudia Avila, acting through unknown persons, bought a large amount of copies of the edition of the newspaper elQuetzalteco. The massive purchase of the circulation of that day would have been intended to prevent the dissemination of the revelation that she have exerted pressures to prevent the removal of her father from public office. The action was reported to the procurator of Human Rights, Jorge de Leon, who described it as attack on freedom of expression and transparency that should be a public official.

There continues unresolved the existence of a radio and television monopoly in the hands of Mexican businessman Ángel Remigio González, who has six open television channels and 66 radio stations. Continuing to be denounced is that these media totally control official advertising and prevent contracting businesses from advertising in other media, and get benefit from the government and politicians through their links with the families of González and his principal executives, and he uses them to mount or broadcast campaigns or strategies to discredit people or institutions that do not enjoy the favor or sympathies of González or his representatives. One of these attacks was against shareholders of the newspaper Prensa Libre and television channel Guatevisión, against which there was waged a campaign to discredit that lasted more than a week.

Also denounced is the use of those media as instruments of pressure to obtain privileges, such as amendments to the Income Tax Law in order to exonerate these television frequencies from the payment of tax, and then in December 2012 the changes to the radio frequency law, which increased from 15 to 20 years the right to use those open television, radio and cel phone frequencies.

Organized crime or delinquents operating individually are also making the free practice of journalism in the provinces difficult. The fear of reprisals leads correspondents to constantly ask that their byline be taken out in reports or audiovisual material concerning police actions against drug trafficking.

In some regions journalists censor themselves and do not cover acts of violence apparently linked to drug trafficking and other illicit activities.