Report to the 76 IAPA General Assembly
October 21-23, 2020

Early in the pandemic, the government took actions that resulted in limited access to information and demonstrated intransigence toward critical opinions and lack of response to requests for information.

On March 14, President Alejandro Giammattei warned the press through a Soy502 news release that contradicted the government's version on the first positive case of Covid19 recorded in the country. Giammattei cited Article 35 of the Public Order Law which states that during any state of emergency, the media are required to avoid communications that could cause confusion, panic or otherwise worsen the situation. He pointed out that if regulations are not followed, the director of the media may receive a warning and, in the event of a repeat offence, censorship may be imposed.

By presidential order, the media were required to publish free official information about the pandemic, during the state of Public Calamity, although this measure was left without effect.

Giammattei criticized the media because they questioned the spending or lack of budget to equip the hospitals.

On September 9 the executive director of the Guatemalan Central Government Presidential Commission, Miguel Martínez, denounced the digital media Plaza Pública for investigating him. He said his family was subjected to alleged "harassment, threats and extortion." Plaza Pública published an investigation into the business ties of President Giammattei and Martínez since 2017. Other members of the same company also hold public office.

This entity was created to coordinate the activities and communication between the ministries and the president, but was criticized because its director would be usurping the duties of the vice president, Guillermo Castillo. It was also denounced that Martínez had been appointed because of his close relationship with the president, without having the technical qualifications for the position.

On September 12, journalist Sonny Figueroa - owner of the digital media Artículo 35 and Vox Populi - was arrested. The day before - and for several months - Figueroa had published notes on the financing of Giammattei's campaign, his image and publicity advisors, and on an incident at the Central Government. The information was also published by Prensa Libre, La Hora and El Periódico. Judge Angel Contreras declared "lack of merit" and ordered the immediate release of the journalist the next day. On October 19, two agents of the National Civil Police were arrested and accused of abuse of authority during the arrest of Figueroa.

Journalists from Guatevisión channel and Prensa Libre, Felipe Garrán and Miriam Figueroa, were intercepted by two highway patrols of the National Civil Police. Two police officers demanded identification, despite the fact they were visibly carrying their IDs. This action was considered an act of intimidation, since it occurred in almost the same place and the day after the Figueroa incident.

In the provinces, many journalists face aggressions and are threatened and limited by local authorities or the region's mafias.

The media complied with the restrictions imposed by the government to guarantee the health of journalists.