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Often victims of the violence that has plagued Guatemala for decades, journalists are reluctant to tackle sensitive subjects because they fear reprisals by criminal groups or government officials. At the same time, media ownership continues to be concentrated in few hands.
Nearly two decades after the end of the 1960-1996 civil war, violence endures in Guatemala. Former military dictator Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of war crimes and genocide during his 1982-1983 presidency only to have his conviction immediately overturned. This climate is largely responsible for the many violations of freedom of information, which have increased since the start of 2013.
Two journalists were gunned down in the space of three weeks in early 2013 in the southeastern department of Jutiapa. They were Jaime Napoleón Jarquín Duarte of Nuestro Diario on 20 March and Luis Alberto Lemus Ruano of Radio Stereo Café and Café TV on 7 April. They were the first journalists to be murdered since Otto Pérez Molina became president in January 2012.
Many journalists and news media have been the targets of intimidation in connection with their reporting. They include the national daily El Periódico, which was the target of several cyber-attacks in 2012 and 2013 after articles about government corruption and abuse of authority.
Intimidation and violence, which usually go unpunished, discourage journalists from trying to cover sensitive stories such as human rights violations, the civil war, organized crime or those tackled by El Periódico.
Who is to blame for an environment that is so detrimental to freedom of information? Criminal gangs, including the “maras,” are partly responsible, but so too are government officials and the security forces. What’s more, the protection that the police may offer a journalist provides no real security.
On the legislative front, the General Telecommunications Law (LGT) that took effect in December 2012 has been very disappointing because its discriminatory character limits pluralism. It favours a few broadcast media but makes no provision for community radios stations, which are denied broadcast frequencies and are liable to be closed at any time in the absence of any legal status. As a result, media ownership is still very concentrated.
A law on access to public information took effect in April 2009 but it was small consolation. The public is barely aware of its existence and it has had no impact on the lack of government transparency.
Updated in July 2013