The environment for the Honduran media has been worsening steadily for more than a decade, ever since a coup in 2009. The country remains now one of the deadliest in the Americas for journalists, creating a climate of fear and self-censorship.
The acquisition of leading media by multinational corporations and smaller media outlets by politicians undermines pluralism. The concentration of media in the hands of politicians, businessmen and religious groups makes information bias palpable. Independent journalism is struggling to survive due to lack of advertising revenue and the constant demands for a right of reply by government officials. Most media toe the editorial line that is dictated by business and political groups. The country’s leading papers are La Prensa, El Heraldo and La Tribuna.
The November 2021 presidential elections saw a decisive victory by left-wing opposition candidate Xiomara Castro of the Partido Libre (Free Party) and ended a decade of rule – three consecutive presidential terms – by the Partido Nacional (National Party). The election of Honduras’ first female president has raised expectations, not least because of her human rights programme. But journalists have continued to face challenges similar to those encountered under previous governments – disparaging comments by officials, access to information denied to journalists who do not support the government, and a lack of protection against threats.
In a country plagued by the violence of organised crime and corruption, the level of impunity is one of the highest in the region. Journalists are regularly subjected to unfounded prosecution, and prison sentences for defamation are frequent, and in some cases, journalists are banned from their profession. A new penal code, adopted in 2020, contains draconian provisions, such as the criminalisation of the right to demonstrate and assembly. They affect the entire chain of information by imposing fines and prison sentences not only on journalists, but also on those who reproduce their content. This code violates international human rights standards and constitutes a threat to press freedom.
Honduras has one of the highest rates of inequality in Latin America. As the pandemic was used as a pretext to lay off journalists or cut their salaries by up to 40%, their economic situation is worse than ever. Media outlets that abuse their employees are not subject to any control. Some independent media outlets manage to raise funds through meagre international grant projects, but most work under very poor conditions.
The country is experiencing a period of social polarisation. The National Party, in power for more than a decade, is trying to portray Xiomara Castro’s government as the worst in history, relying on the media and political activists to do so. Any action by the president is characterised with negative exaggeration. Furthermore, the public discourse suffers from a lack of diversity, with women and community voices missing.
Journalists and community media – especially those covering drug trafficking, organised crime, major business projects, social polarisation and violence against women – are often subjected to harassment campaigns and intimidation, persecution, death threats and physical violence, and many are forced into exile. Most of the time, abuses and violence against the press are committed by security forces, and more particularly by the military police and the army. Honduras has a protection mechanism for journalists, but it suffers from a lack of funding and inexperienced staff. This undermines the implementation of its measures and means its beneficiaries are still vulnerable.