IAPA Midyear Meeting 2017

Antigua Guatemala, Guatemala

March 31 – April 3


Two journalists were killed in this period. Censorship and self-censorship are still among the biggest challenges faced by journalists, especially outside the capital. Journalists opt to remain silent amid the dangers posed by powerful local politicians or organized crime.

Journalists often refrain from reporting incidents to the police due to the slow pace of criminal investigations, which in turn has led to a severe backlog in the justice system.

Some members of the business community attempt to use their advertising money to influence the editorial line of media outlets and to prevent the publication of news items unflattering to their brands or of customer complaints about poor service.

Journalist Manuel Salvador Villagrán was killed on January 19 on the highway leading to San Jorge municipality in Zacapa. According to the Cerigua Journalists Observatory, the journalist was shot several times while driving his motorcycle and died at the scene. Villagrán was the public relations officer of San Jorge municipality and worked as a contributor to vairous media outlets in Zacapa.

Hamilton Hernández Vásquez, a journalist for the program Punto Rojo on Channel 5 in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango, and his wife were killed on November 5, 2016. The journalist was returning from having covered a news assignment at a local hospital.

President Jimmy Morales and Vice President Jafeth Cabrera have repeatedly exhibited intolerant attitude toward news, opinions and questions. On various occasions they have even questioned the value of the media.

On March 1, the president accused the media of spreading rumors of a coup d'état when in fact he was the one who two weeks earlier had said there were "well-founded" rumors of a breakdown of constitutional order.

The president's press secretary has employed various tactics to make it difficult for journalists to address questions to President Morales. Journalists have denounced two of these tactics: one, that the president will either not answer questions and or only answer questions from journalists of government-owned or government-friendly media outlets; and two, that on the few occasions when access to the president is granted, restrictions are placed on the number of questions and topics.

On February 24, a coalition of organizations of journalists and radio personalities, united under the name Alliance of Press Organizations, stated that the government had once again failed to meet the commitment it made in Geneva in 2012 to implement a program to protect journalists.

The document — signed by the Guatemalan Journalists Association, the Guatemalan Chamber of Journalism, the Guatemalan Chamber of Professional Radio Announcers, and Guatemalan Sports Reporters — states that President Morales approved their proposal for such a program on July 18, 2016, and issued instructions to implement it. However, nothing has materialized since then.

Nearly four years have passed, and three presidential adminisrations have come and gone, since the idea of implementing this program was first discussed.

The general public continues to exhibit a certain degree of intolerance toward the press. A number of attacks on journalists have been reported.

The most recent incident was reported on March 1, 2017, by the newspaper elPeriódico. News photographer Alex Cruz and driver Ernesto Hidalgo were intercepted by two men who threatened them with firearms and took their photographic equipment and cellphones. On December 24, shots were fired at the home of Walter Peña, a journalist for the same newspaper in the Guatemalan capital.

Two incidents of censorship and cyberattacks on the website Nómada were reported after the site had published items unfavorable to the administration of President Morales.