The press limped through its first full year after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch. Restrictive government policies aimed at silencing independent media and corruption among local journalists themselves cast a long shadow over press freedom.
The country's few independent journalists routinely face government pressures. Their phones are often tapped, they are ridiculed by the establishment press, and they live in a constant state of fear. One San Pedro Sula television journalist, Rossana Guevara, reported being seriously harassed after she investigated cases of government corruption. In October, her dog was delibarately poisoned, according to local police. And in July, unidentified individuals tried to kidnap another TV journalist, Renato Alvarez of Telenisa Canal 63, after he reported on a possible coup.
"The situation has gotten worse," said an exasperated Guevara. "The right to free expression doesn't exist in Honduras, and without a free press, there cannot be a democracy." Defamation is a criminal offense that is normally punishable by up to one year in prison, although there were no reported prosecutions in 1999. Under Article 323 of the penal code, journalists who "offend the president of the Republic" can be sentenced to 12 years in prison.