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Skewed coverage has followed Honduran coup

The ongoing political crisis following the ouster of President Manuel Zelaya on June 28 has damaged the press freedom climate in Honduras. Complying with orders by caretaker leader Roberto Micheletti, Honduran security forces shut down local broadcasters, blocked transmissions of international news networks, and briefly detained journalists in the aftermath of the coup, CPJ research shows. But part of the damage was self-inflicted: Some media outlets have slanted coverage to favor the coup leaders.

Alexis Quiroz, executive director with the Committee for Freedom of Expression (C-Libre), a local press freedom group, said the situation remains unstable. "The curfew imposed by the new government has created serious restrictions for local reporters," Quiroz told CPJ. But Quiroz also noted that some media outlets have favored Micheletti. On Sunday, when the military blocked Zelaya's return flight and opened fire on his supporters at the Tegucigalpa airport, most television stations broadcast an official event instead, he said.

Manuel Torres, an independent journalist and local media analyst, went as far as to say that most Honduran media have acted in a partisan way against Zelaya. "The ousted president," said Torres, "had a contentious relationship with the press and frequently used charged rhetoric" in responding to criticism in the media. Torres charged that media bias has led to manipulation of facts, the presentation of misleading information, and the use of selective censorship. "The press ignored the facts, misused sources, and transformed speculation into information," Torres told CPJ. 

The Associated Press has reported that most TV stations have devoted coverage to protests favoring Micheletti, while ignoring those supporting Zelaya. Radio reports, the AP said, were more balanced but still delivered more information on the de facto government.

"The behavior of the Honduran media during the coup bears a resemblance to what happened in Venezuela [in 2002], ignoring facts or only broadcasting the views of the new officials," said Arturo Wallace Salinas, who covers Central America for the BBC. When Venezuela's Hugo Chávez was briefly ousted that year, prominent broadcasters were widely accused of slanting coverage in favor of the coup leaders.

Journalists at some outlets say the criticism is unfair. They complained about their reporters being attacked and harassed by Zelaya supporters while covering street demonstrations.

Rosángela Soto, a reporter and TV host with privately owned Channel 3 in Tegucigalpa, which belongs to television conglomerate Televicentro, told CPJ that reporters working for the media group had been attacked and harassed by Zelaya supporters. "We have been physically assaulted and threatened with death," Soto said. The TV host said Televicentro reporters cannot cover pro-Zelaya demonstrations because they fear reprisals. "We have decided not to cover those events because we cannot risk the lives of our journalists," Soto said.

Elán Reyes Pineda, president of the Honduran Journalists Union, added that pro-Zelaya protesters had threatened journalists at street protests and hurled stones and sticks at the offices of several Tegucigalpa outlets.

Media coverage aside, the coup leaders have taken assertive measures of their own to censor and control the flow of information. Electricity was cut off in the capital, Tegucigalpa, on the day of the coup, obstructing radio, television, and online coverage. The new governing authorities created an information vacuum, leaving Hondurans without the means to know what was happening in their own country.

The signals of two Tegucigalpa-based television stations and two radio stations were blocked hours after the coup on June 29, according to CPJ sources and press reports. The signal of Canal 8, a national, government-owned television station, was reinstated 24 hours later. Private television station Canal 36, which CPJ sources said had supported Zelaya, remained off the air until Sunday. Radio Globo and Radio Progreso, a Jesuit-run radio station in the northern city of El Progreso, were back on the air on June 30 but were operating with restrictions, reporters told CPJ.

So the coup leaders have clearly caused serious damage to the press. But by slanting their coverage, some news outlets have themselves devalued press freedom.

July 8, 2009 4:33 PM ET | | Comments (7)

Comments

You forgot to mention all the feeds to CNN came from telesur, the Chavez network.

Cheers.

Lorna

Skewed news coverage is in your very post. to call the president that took over via a coup the "caretaker leader" is pretty perverse I think.

I agree that the journalistic information has definitely been skewed, but not as stated in this article, but rather fom the part of the international media that has refused to investigate Zelaya's record and the legitimacy of the new government. Instead they converted a dictator into a saint and a martyr trying to restore a criminal to the presidency in a country that is happy to be rid of him.

My recommendation to this media is to do a little research, study Montesquieu on the separation of powers, then read the Honduran Constitution and the documents presented by the legitimate government of Honduras (www.laverdadenhonduras.com). Then and not until then you will be able to provide an opinion of what happened in Honduras.

I completely agree with Maria Taylor. I'm an american who was and still am living in Handuras during this whole ordeal. I knew almost a month before hand this was going to happen everyone did. CNN in my opinion screwed this whole story up and if they just went by the opinion of the honduras people, i think everyone would know what the right thing to do would be.

Maria,

"Instead they converted a dictator into a saint"

Is Zelaya a dictator in the same way that Chavez is a dictator. That is, the kind of dictator who's *elected*? I suppose by dictator you mean "president I don't like."

Zelaya's record is tangential here. The point is that a legitimate government was removed by illegitimate means. And how odd that the U.S. has continued to fund the coup government, as opposed to actually pushing for the reinstatement of Zelaya -- a Chavez ally and ALBA member.

It is CPJ that is skewing coverage of Honduras's perfectly legal decision to remove its president.

Honduras's president was removed by order of its supreme court, so by definition it was legal and not a "coup."

The president gave up his right to hold office by violating Article 239 of the Honduran Constitution, which says that president's "immediately" are stripped of office if they seek or propose an end to constitutional term limits -- as Honduras's president clearly did by using intimidation and foreign assistance from Venezuela's strongman in an attempt to change the constitution.

So the supreme court, with the backing of Congress, validly ordered troops to remove him from office (which they did, under the responsibility vested in them under Article 272).

The fact that troops carried out the order rather than police is of no moment, since troops sometimes enforce court orders against power officials even in the U.S. (as in the 1956 Little Rock desegregation case, where a state governor was defiant of the court), and since Honduras has no equivalent of federal marshalls, and since its constitution expressly gives soldiers the duty under Article 272 to enforce certain constitutional mandates.

I've been following the coverage of the current situation in Honduras closely, and have found one of the most balanced sites to be: http://www.ajs-us.org/honduras_political_crisis.htm. It is created by an organization called Association for a More Just Society that is working in Honduras for justice for the poor and transparency in government. It carries stories from all sides of the debate and contains information I haven't seen in many other places. Definitely worth a look.


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