Guatemala Moves to Protect Journalists Following Violent Attacks in 2012
By Dialogo May 24, 2013
Guatemala is to launch a new security program aimed at protecting journalists against organized crime.
The program, which has received support from Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, will address issues of impunity, the security of reporters and the environments they work in.
“The situation for journalists in Guatemala, and particularly for those outside the capital, is complex,” said Oscar Ismatul, deputy secretary of communications for the presidency. “This is the first step towards creating an effective system of protection for journalists where the state is part and guarantor of their integrity.”
The move reflects growing concerns over the safety of reporters and media professionals in Guatemala. Last year, the Center for Informative Reports on Guatemala [Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala, or CERIGUA] recorded 36 attacks against journalists. So far in 2013, it said, two reporters have been killed, and 15 have been attacked or threatened.
“President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice-President Roxana Baldetti have a deep commitment to free press,” Ismatul said. “Guaranteeing freedom of expression and the integrity of media workers is a commitment of this government and must be a commitment of all politicians in the country.”
UN program aims to protect journalists worldwide
The Journalist Protection Program is a United Nations initiative that aims to strengthen peace, democracy and development worldwide. Guatemala is set to become the country in Latin America to approve the plan after similar versions were established in Mexico and Colombia last year.
Guatemala’s decision to adopt the UN initiative comes just weeks after the U.S. government announced it would open a safety training center in El Salvador for Central American journalists, in an attempt to protect them against similar threats.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that a journalist is killed in the line of duty somewhere around the world once every eight days, and that nearly three out of far are targeted for murder. The rest are killed in the crossfire of combat, or on dangerous assignments such as street protests, according to the New York-based CPJ.
Local journalists constitute the majority of victims in all groups, said the organization, while the murderers go unpunished in about nine out of 10 cases.
Fallen journalists honored at Newseum ceremony
On May 13, the names of 84 journalists who died worldwide covering the news in 2012 were added to a memorial at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., along with those of six journalists killed in previous years whose deaths were recently brought to the Newseum’s attention.
The Newseum is an international nonprofit museum founded in 1997 to educate the public about the value of a free press in a free society. Since then, it has welcomed more than three million visitors. Its soaring, two-story glass memorial gallery is inscribed with the names of 2,244 reporters, photographers, broadcasters and news executives from around the world who have died since 1837 supporting freedom of the press.
The Newseum ceremony’s keynote speaker was Richard Engel, chief correspondent for NBC News. Engel, 39, was on assignment in Syria last year when he and several members of his TV news production crew were kidnapped and held hostage for five days — enduring psychological torture and mock executions while NBC and the U.S. government worked to secure their release.
“We are being killed off,” said Engel, noting that his fellow journalists take risks “to understand the world and how it changes. We go to where the cracks are.” The honored reporters died “doing what they loved. They died in the line of duty with their boots on and their pen in hand.”
Brazil among riskiest countries for reporters
In fact, Syria was the deadliest country for journalists in 2012. A total of 29 reporters were killed in that war-torn country last year, followed by Somalia (12 deaths) and Brazil and Pakistan (which each recorded seven deaths).
Among the dead Brazilian journalists honored at the Newseum ceremony were Eduardo Carvalho, owner and editor of the website Ultima Hora News, who was shot to death by a gunman on a motorcycle as he arrived home with his wife. A retired police officer, Carvalho frequently published news about crime and had received numerous death threats.
Another victim was Valério Luiz de Oliveira, a sports commentator for Rádio Jornal who had received death threats for his opinions about a local soccer team.
Likewise, Mário Randolfo Marques Lopes, a journalist known for criticizing government officials on his website Vassouras Na Net, was killed with his girlfriend after they were kidnapped from their home. Marques Lopes had survived a previous attempt on his life in 2011.
Also on the 2012 list: Colombia’s Guillermo Quiroz Delgado, a freelance newspaper and TV reporter killed during a demonstration against a local gas company; Ecuador’s Byron Baldeón, a freelance photographer shot in front of his home in El Triunfo, about 50 kilometers north of Guayaquil, and Mexico’s Adrian Silva Moreno, a freelance crime reporter shot to death in Puebla by unidentified gunmen after covering an oil theft investigation and a gunfight involving organized crime.