Six journalists were dismissed during the year from the daily paper El Heraldo and the TV station Canal 63. All blamed government pressure on their employers, including personal intervention by President Carlos Flores Facussé. The two privately-owned media, hitherto known for their independence, subsequently made a sharp switch of editorial line a few months before general elections.
The deterioration of press conditions included decisions by the Journalists Institute which, despite the dropping of legal action against 152 journalists for "illegally working as journalists" suspended several dozen of its members and disciplined two of them who criticised its decisions and denounced corruption in the profession. Two draft laws under consideration would threaten the confidentiality of sources and impose heavy prison sentences for revealing "state secrets."
Pressure and obstruction
A bill to fight organised crime presented to parliament by the government in the first quarter of 2001 said (article 7) that "professional confidentiality cannot be cited as a reason not to cooperate" with the legal authorities. The law would also make it easier to tap phones and intercept postal or electronic mail. A new penal code would impose (article 372) between four and seven years imprisonment for revealing state secrets. By the end of the year, neither bill had become law.
The editor of the daily El Heraldo, Thelma Mejía, was dismissed on 15 April in what her employers said was a conflict over the paper’s editorial line. Mejía said she had resisted pressure on her journalists by President Carlos Flores, who she accused of being responsible for her sacking. The family of the paper’s managing editor, businessman Jorge Canahuati, reportedly has a number of commercial government contracts. Mejía said her dismissal was also linked to a report she helped write that was sent to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) charging that the president exerted pressure on media owners as soon as criticism of the government appeared. Soon afterwards, Manuel Torres Calderón, El Heraldo’s opinion page editor, and Roger Argueta, a reporter on the paper, were also sacked. The paper’s deputy managing editor, Julio César Marín, reportedly said he had received "pressure from above" to sack Torres Calderón, whom he warned "not to set the country ablaze" by raising sensitive social issues in an election year. On 16 May, another of the paper’s journalists, Isolda Arita Melzer, resigned because she disagreed with the change in editorial line after the sackings. These departures came a few months before the 25 November general election. The human rights organisation COFADEH denounced "the authorities’ scheme to force the leading media to support it."
César Omar Silva, of the TV station Canal 63 who was also a student leader who had denounced corruption at the national university, was dismissed from the station on 30 April. He said the university rector, Ana Belén Castillo, had pressed the station’s owners, the López family, to sack him. The family, who also own a construction company, had won a government contract to build student housing.
At the end of August, Juan Carlos Sierra, Liliam Barahona, Felix Molina and Melisa Amaya, all of Canal 63, were told they would be dismissed in October. A few weeks earlier, the station’s news editor, Renato Alvarez, had been sent on "indefinite leave." In the end, only Alvarez and news presenter Molina were dismissed. Molina said the sackings came after the Lopez family had been awarded government construction contracts. Canal 63 was one of the TV stations most critical of the government. Alvarez and Molina were also part of the team who drafted the press freedom report sent to the IACHR.
In the autumn, a court dismissed the case against 152 journalists accused by the Journalists Institute of "illegally working as journalists." The court cited a 1985 advisory opinion of the IACHR. All Honduran journalists are obliged to belong to the Institute. Twice, in June and September, the Institute suspended several members for a year, some of them for not paying their dues. At the end of May, Juan Ramón Durán and Miguel Martínez were disciplined by the Institute for having denounced corruption in the profession and the Institute’s failure to provide professional training for journalists.