New Guatemalan president must work hard to improve press freedom

March 27, 2020 10:15 AM ET

Conditions for journalists fundamentally unsound just as coronavirus hits

New York, March 27, 2020 —Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has an opportunity to reverse a longstanding trend of obstruction, legal harassment, orchestrated online attacks, and threats of violence against the press, but it will take an unwavering commitment to overcome the failures of past administrations, the Committee to Protect Journalists finds in a report released today.

The report, “Trust deficit: Guatemala’s new president must overcome skepticism to improve press freedom,” finds that conditions for press freedom are fundamentally unsound, just as the country is grappling with the coronavirus epidemic and needs accurate information. Guatemala’s cybercrimes laws are inadequate to counter concerted online harassment campaigns, and officials regularly abuse laws to silence critical reporting. The report examines how rural and indigenous journalists are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and threats from criminal groups and corrupt officials. Reporters covering the environment are frequently targeted.

“For nearly a decade, the Guatemalan leadership failed to truly protect journalists, and in the current polarized environment it is vital that the government makes press freedom a priority,” said CPJ South and Central Americas Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick. “Years of mistreatment and violence have made journalists in Guatemala wary that the government will actually stand up for them, a problem that President Giammattei must now address urgently if he hopes to regain their trust and combat the country’s endemic corruption,” said Southwick, who authored the report with contributions from Central America Correspondent Dánae Vílchez.

There is near total impunity for the murder of journalists. Since 1992, CPJ has documented six journalists killed in Guatemala, four of whom were murdered in direct retaliation for their reporting CPJ is investigating the motives behind an additional 19 journalist deaths in the country, including the recent killing of journalist Bryan Guerra.

Former President Jimmy Morales was hostile toward anyone who investigated him, discrediting or undermining journalists. Giammattei has taken steps to distance himself from his predecessor, granting broader access to press conferences and officials. The government has renewed support for the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Journalists, an investigative unit.

The report includes recommendations for Giammattei, the attorney general, and Congress on legislative action, upholding international commitments, and improving accessibility. There are recommendations for the Organization of American States, the United Nations, media outlets, and Facebook and Twitter to better protect journalists from targeted harassment campaigns.

CPJ’s website features resources, safety advisories, and safety kits for journalists seeking assistance and advice.

Note to Editors:

Trust deficit: Guatemala’s new president must overcome skepticism to improve press freedom” is available on CPJ's website in English and Spanish. For questions or to arrange an interview with CPJ experts, email [email protected]