Assailants force two Honduran broadcasters off the air

New York, August 25, 2009–Masked assailants on Monday stormed a radio station and a television outlet critical of the country’s interim government, forcing the broadcasters off the air in the latest attack on the Honduran media. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Honduran authorities to ensure that all journalists can work safely in an increasingly polarized and violent environment.

At 8 p.m., eight individuals wearing ski masks forced their way into the Tegucigalpa offices shared by Radio Globo and Canal 36, local press reports said. The assailants threatened the guards and sprayed acid on broadcasting equipment, effectively taking both stations off the air, according to local and international press reports. The attackers fled in several cars without license plates. No injuries were reported.

As of 6 a.m. today, Radio Globo could be heard again in limited parts of Tegucigalpa, local press reports said. Canal 36 remained off the air as of Tuesday afternoon. Both broadcasters had been airing a concert in support of ousted President Manuel Zelaya at the time of the attack. Their editorial positions support Zelaya, according to local press reports.

Monday’s episode was the latest in a series of press attacks apparently launched by supporters of both sides in the political conflict.

On August 15, several unidentified individuals tossed at least three homemade bombs at the offices of the national El Heraldo in Tegucigalpa, according to reports in the Honduran and international press. The bombs exploded near the paper’s main and staff entrances, causing minor damage. No injuries were reported. El Heraldo, one of the country’s main dailies, has been an outspoken supporter of the interim government led by Roberto Micheletti, local press reports said.

“The media are under assault from both sides of the bitter political conflict raging in Honduras,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The authorities must send a clear signal that such violence will not be tolerated, by denouncing and investigating all attacks on the press and ensuring the safety of all journalists.”

On the morning of June 28, members of the Honduran army arrested Zelaya and put him on a plane to Costa Rica. Micheletti, a veteran congressional leader, was sworn in as the president later that day. Zelaya had been seeking a referendum on a constitutional change to eliminate term limits and allow him a second run.

Since the coup, press conditions have deteriorated. 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. As political tension, protests, and violence have intensified, coverage has been skewed at times. Unidentified assailants have attacked media outlets and harassed journalists covering both sides of the political crisis. A reporter was shot dead on July 4. CPJ is investigating whether his death is linked to the political crisis or to his reporting.