Reporting from Honduras
[private] A report of Reporters Without Borders states that this year Honduras has been classified as the most dangerous country for members of the media. The report described Mexico as the most dangerous country of the world, where clashes between drug cartels and government troops had claimed the lives of 13 journalists since January. Honduras and Pakistan are at second place on the list with nine deaths each. “Ahead” in numbers of war zone countries of Iraq and Afghanistan, Honduras is by far the smallest country in this group and leads by far in journalists murdered per capita.
While journalist in Pakistan and Iraq are killed for being too close to the story, in Mexico they are victims of the drug smuggling gangs that try to intimidate them. Unlike in Mexico the media in Honduras applies self-censorship and doesn’t do investigative reporting pieces on organized crime. The self censorship goes from the top down, from the publishers of newspapers to individual reporters.
There have been nine journalists killed in Honduras this year. The violence hit a peak in March, when three journalists were killed. Committee to Protect Journalists [CPJ] lists five Honduran journalists whose motive for killing is confirmed. The other seven are listed as having unconfirmed motive. The CPJ list doesn’t disclose that three Honduran journalists left the country in fear of their lives.
I originally thought that the Honduran journalists may be killed for threatening the economic interest of the country’s rich elite. While three journalists were indeed killed in the months following the 2009 coup, I believe the reasons for the continued violence are far more complex. While several of the killed reporters have been involved in politicks on pro-Zelaya angle, others have taken a strong pro-Micheletti stance.
There were several journalists who have been accused of extortion, using their position to make people pay to keep their name out of the news. A killing that has particularly resounded in the North Coast of Honduras took place on March 11, when David Meza Montesinos,, 51, a renowned la Ceiba street reporter was killed after a long car chase that ended up at his home’s doorstep. He was shot multiple times by four assailants. According to the CPJ report some Meza’s professional colleges believed police may have been behind the killing. These witnessed acknowledge that their late colleague was known to extort money from sources.
The Honduras journalists killed in the last few years were all male, were all shot, and come from print (20%), radio (40%) and television (60%) organizations. CPJ report breaks down the “source” for the Honduras journalists’ killings in a fallowing manner: 20% were killed by a criminal group, 20% by government officials, 20% by local residents and 40% by a political group. What is particularly disturbing, CPJ states that 80% of the murderers have gotten away with “complete impunity.”
I’ve been asking people who is perpetuating this violence against media representatives and why. “Who knows, there are lawyers being killed in Honduras all the time too,” was the response I received from an island lawyer with an office in Tegucigalpa. “They [Honduran journalists] blackmail people that they will write a story critical of them unless they get paid not to, and they get killed,” said a mainland business owner.
The society is reacting to the unethical practices of journalists, and other liberal professionals in this manner,” said another La Ceiba businessman. He said that doctors, psychologists, lawyers, fiscales are also targets of violent crime. “Honduras crime against journalists is abstract, it has no face,” he said. “People don’t believe in the legal system. The value of life has been reduced,” explained still another La Ceiba businessman.
The concept of who is a journalist in Honduras is different than in the United States or Europe. Many Honduran Journalists are really “media personalities” with strong opinions, vocal political stance and obvious economic interests outside their own profession. Honduran journalists are elected to public offices and continue to work in journalism without recognizing any conflict of interest. An added element to the phenomena is that in Honduras life is cheap and many business problems are easier solved with a “hit” than a legal arbitration. [/private]