The murder of a journalist shocked the media. Other incidents during 2003 highlighted the urgent need to change the law.
The killing of TV station chief Germán Antonio Rivas on 26 November 2003 shook journalists, who had hitherto been spared the violence that plagues the country. The local press freedom committee, C-Libre, said it feared the murder was the start of a campaign against the media and noted that Rivas had denounced people involved in corruption and organised crime. But the motive for the crime was not established.
The threat of prosecution is a powerful weapon against the media since specified prison terms are heavy. During a visit in early September, the Organisation of American States special rapporteur for freedom of expression, Eduardo Bertoni, urged the government to abolish the law obliging journalists to belong to an official journalists’ institute before they could work.
He also criticised the laws against "insults" which in effect punished criticism of government officials and public figures. The prosecutor-general then petitioned the supreme court on 23 October objecting to article 345 of the criminal code providing for up to six years imprisonment for insulting government officials, saying it contravened article 72 of the national constitution which guaranteed freed of expression.
The media were told in September and October that their access and facilities in parliament, the prosecutor-general’s office and the state auditing board were being restricted. C-Libre presented on 5 November a proposal for a law to ensure access to government information, saying it aimed to "break with the culture of silence."
A journalist killed
One journalist was killed in 2003 but it was not possible to say by the end of the year if this was because of his job.
Germán Antonio Rivas, head of the TV station Corporación Mayavisión-Canal 7, based in the western town of Santa Rosa del Copán, was shot dead on 26 November by two gunmen as he arrived at work. Police said it may have been related to extra-marital affairs of him or his wife or else to do with the station’s investigation of coffee and cattle smuggling across the border with Guatemala and dumping of cyanide in the River Lara by the Minerales de Occidente mining company.
They also speculated it may have been linked with his rivalry with Liberal Party deputy Amid Cárdenas, owner of the TV station Canal 49. Both men owned competing TV and radio stations and Rivas was planning to launch a new station. They were also rivals in the local market for cable TV and satellite phones. An anti-Cárdenas fraction of the Liberal Party had urged Rivas to run for parliament but he had not made up his mind when he was killed.
Police thought a crime of passion was the most likely motive. The two suspected killers were named as José Alfonso Morán and José Elenin Castañeda and arrest warrants were issued for them. But police did not question key witnesses. Some prominent people and friends of Rivas told Reporters Without Borders that the three suspected motives could be intertwined.
He had already been shot at in front of his home on 24 February, after which he complained that police were not seriously investigating the incident. He himself had found the gun used after investigators had supposedly searched the site of the crime. At the time he was killed, the ballistic test results of the first attack were not yet known. His station had not broadcast any news about sensitive subjects since the February shooting.
Two journalists physically attacked
Germán Antonio Rivas, head of the TV station Corporación Mayavisión-Canal 7, was shot at on the night of 24 February as he arrived home in the western town of Santa Rosa del Copán from the station, which had recently exposed an ecological scandal involving a mining firm and also border smuggling of coffee and cattle. He had been threatened in previous weeks.
Eduardo Irías, a cameraman for the TV station Canal 66, was hit in front of parliament on 8 October by students demonstrating against the government’s education policy. His equipment was damaged. Students from the Vicente Cáceres Institute publicly apologised to him four days later.
Carlos Mauricio Flores, editor of the Tegucigalpa daily El Heraldo, was threatened and attacked on 21 October by a Colombian, Ethalson Giovanni Mejía, and his lawyer who demanded to know his sources for a report in the paper the day before that the Honduran intelligence service had implicated Mejía in arms smuggling to the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces guerrillas (FARC). The two men threatened to sue him.
Harassment and obstruction
Renato Alvarez, presenter of the "Frente a Frente" programme broadcast by the Corporación Televicentro group (which includes the TV stations Canal 3, Canal 5 and Canal 7), was sued for slander after airing a programme on 24 June about drug smuggling involving police, judges, politicians and businessmen. Suits were filed by lawyer Rossel Barralaga and former parliamentary deputy Eduardo Sarmiento. Alvarez risks up to eight years in prison. Barralaga asked for $99,000 in damages.
A slander suit was filed on 7 August against Rossana Guevara (editor) and Sandra Moreno (reporter) of the "TN5" news programme on the TV station Canal 5 by businessman Victor Bendeck Samra, a member of the Central American Parliament. The station had on 20 May quoted the national anti-corruption council as saying he had fled after being involved in the collapse of a bank. The two journalists risk up to eight years in prison.