Speaking Freely in Honduras
Freedom of Speech is only as Strong as People Prepared to Exercise it

July 1st, 2008
by Thomas Tomczyk

[private] v6-7-My VoiceRecently I was discussing with a La Prensa reporter of 30 plus years the existence of freedom of the press in Honduras. She said there was no freedom. I told her there was. What I believe was happening was that we were defining “freedom of the press” differently. She defined it as a “reality of working on the Honduras mainland.” I defined freedom as a “legal protection for journalists and publishers prepared to exercise their right.”

The La Prensa journalist began to tell me about how the mainland press is dominated by three publishers fighting one another and looking after their own interest. While that may be accurate and sad, I believe it is only a result of society not holding the press accountable for the topics it covers and the manner in which it covers them.

Freedom of expression is not always comfortable, or easily achieved. On the pages of Bay Islands Voice, I have published letters to editor which I don’t agree with. I have also published editorials by our editorial writers which I don’t agree with and find personally hurtful. Even though I have the right not to publish them, I believe by exercising that right I would limit the ability of my writers and their free speech. In addition, by doing so I would lessen the value of the Bay Islands Voice as a vehicle of free speech.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Reporters Without Borders in its annual 2007 survey of freedom of the press ranks Honduras “satisfactory” and 87th out of 169 nations ranked. “Media freedom in Honduras is restricted by punitive defamation laws. These require journalists to reveal sources in certain cases. Journalists tend to exercise self-censorship to avoid offending the political or economic interests of media owners and there have been cases of journalists accepting bribes from officials. The level of violence against journalists is alarmingly high,” reads the 2007 Reporters Without Borders country report.

What my mainland colleague failed to understand is that all these laws protecting free and journalistic expression don’t actually ensure there will be a free expression of thoughts and ideas. Freedom of the press legal protection is a necessary but not necessarily sufficient condition to the existence of free press. While I am exercising my journalistic free expression on a monthly basis, my mainland colleagues may feel differently about their work.

I believe that “freedom of expression” is a self-evident, human right that stands above a legislating apparatus. The laws protecting free speech are not even necessary for free speech to exist in a society. For example, in the 1980s communist Poland I lived in, a small but vibrant underground press and underground radio existed which allowed for expression of thoughts and ideas not allowed in the country’s laws. Today the internet circumvents borders and makes journalistic expression even less dependent on any given country’s laws. If you want to write, video or photo document what is going on in Burma, Darfur, Cuba or La Mosquitia, you can easily do so online for the entire world to learn about.

Laws of countries can protect free, journalistic expression, but it is the publishers and working journalists who have to make it a reality. If there is no will on their part, no ability to practice their profession ethically or to follow reporting standards, then there will be no free press. [/private]

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