Honduran Newspapers Deliver Photo Images of Resistance Participants to Police
Freedom of the Press Acquires New Definitions
By Belén Fernández
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
November 1, 2009
As if the ethical nature of the photographic practices of pro-coup Honduran newspapers has not already been sufficiently negated by the use of Photoshop to erase blood from anti-coup victims of military and police repression, evidence of even more incriminating tactics has now emerged. According to a source with intimate knowledge of the goings-on at one of the leading Tegucigalpa dailies – who spoke on condition of anonymity in the interest of personal safety – Honduran papers have also responded to the June 28 coup against President Mel Zelaya by delivering photos of Resistance marchers to the police.
Andrés Pavón, president of the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Honduras (CODEH), confirmed that the presence at marches of photographers from the daily El Heraldo had not resulted in extensive photographic coverage of the events in the paper itself, causing him to question the real purpose of the images. Speaking at the Burger King outside the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa where Zelaya continues to be confined, Pavón defined newspaper contributions to police archives as journalistic terrorism – a different take on the media terrorism that coup president Roberto Micheletti had accused Channel 36 of on September 21 for reporting that Zelaya was in Tegucigalpa and not in a Managua hotel.
El Heraldo, La Prensa, and La Tribuna – essentially interchangeable mouthpieces for the Honduran coup government – appear on the list of members of the Miami-based Inter American Press Association (IAPA), whose mission according to the organization’s website includes “defend[ing] press freedom wherever it comes under threat in the Americas.” Ricardo Trotti – Press Freedom Director for the organization representing newspaper owners throughout the hemisphere – responded over the phone to a request for the definition of “press freedom” utilized by the IAPA, his first response being that he did not understand the question; his second was that the Declaration of Chapultepec, adopted by the Hemispheric Conference on Freedom of Expression in Mexico City in 1994, provided some aspects of the definition but that press freedom was an abstract rather than a concrete concept.
Trotti refrained from invoking the concept’s abstract nature when I asked whether the practice of Honduran IAPA members passing images of Resistance protesters along to the police would qualify as press freedom. He explained that he could not offer a judgment on the matter without knowing the facts but said that the IAPA would investigate the claim if they received a formal complaint.
The likelihood of such an investigation is cast into doubt by the fact that the Honduran coup government, which commands the content of the aforementioned papers, has already violated virtually all of the principles contained in the Declaration of Chapultepec. The document’s 10 principles include prohibitions on threatening, kidnapping, and otherwise persecuting journalists, with Honduran violations occurring in the form of death threats to the staff of anti-coup media outlets and the recent kidnapping and torture of El Libertador journalist Delmer Membreño.
Also prohibited is the destruction of media property – a description applicable to the August pouring of acid on broadcasting transmitters belonging to Channel 36 and Radio Globo – and the punishment of journalists and media for publishing the truth or criticizing the government. The potential addition of the concept of truth to the list of abstractions is suggested by its former function as the title of the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party and by its appearance in the motto of El Heraldo: “The truth in your hands.”
Handheld truth on August 17 had included the headline “Attack against freedom of expression in Honduras,” which it turned out did not involve the beating of anti-coup Hondurans expressing themselves in the street but rather the launching of five explosives, two of which the paper reported as not exploding, at the offices of El Heraldo at 2.30 a.m.. The launchers are identified as “antisociales”; the article does not explain whether press deliveries of photos to the police are more social affairs, or whether the expansion of police databases might also impinge on freedom of expression.
As for police databases outside Honduras, a recent report in The Guardian notes how London cops have “developed a covert apparatus to monitor people they consider are, or could be, ‘domestic extremists,’” a term which apparently includes citizens opposed to firearms and the maltreatment of animals. The British police, however, seem to be compiling their own information and images; Honduran reliance on the media has meanwhile been explained by El Libertador founder and director Jhonny Lagos as a function of the superior quality of images produced by professional photographers and not by Honduran policemen with cell phones.
According to the source who revealed the direct cooperation between Honduran papers and the police, the practice of ceding photos has diminished in accordance with the diminishing attendance at marches of relevant photographers, perhaps due to fear of reprisals. Campesino leader Rafael Alegría commented near the Congress building in Tegucigalpa the other day that the Resistance was “neither surprised nor scared by” the image-sharing but that it remained committed to peaceful action.
Said commitment was challenged by a Honduran policeman who maintained that the Resistance had been beating reporters but that any allegations of police involvement in such activity were “falso, falso!” This scheme was subsequently contradicted, however, by his announcement that Venezuelan reporters from Telesur were only beaten because they were guerrillas. Telesur’s lack of press freedom in Honduras may have something to do with the fact that it is not a member of the Inter American Press Association, the stated aims of which include defending “the dignity, the rights, and the responsibilities of journalism.”
The concept of dignity was also addressed in a July article in El Heraldo entitled “Dignity is worth more than a visa,” in which golpista Human Rights Commissioner Ramón Custodio is praised for being willing to accept “with a patriotic attitude” the impending ceremonial cancellation of his US visa. Patriotic sacrifice, however, does not appear to extend to those sectors of the population affected by legitimate human rights violations.
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