Honduran journalists face increasing threats

Journalists' insecurity is blamed on political polarization, which could grow with the planned return of ousted former President Manuel Zelaya this month.

The owner of a television station in Honduras was gunned down yesterday, becoming the thirteenth member of the media to be killed in the past year.

While Mexico’s security situation usually overshadows that of other countries in the region – including the distinction of being among the most dangerous places for working journalists – those in Honduras are increasingly vulnerable.

Both the Honduran and Mexican press environments became “not free” this year according to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press Survey, released earlier this month. They were the only two declines in status in the Americas.

In Mexico, drug gangs are the clear culprits perpetrating violence, often leaving menacing messages to journalists that are widely aired. In Honduras, the motives are murkier.

Drug trafficking is a growing problem in Honduras, but the harassment of media workers is also due to the political polarization in the country after the ouster of former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, says Karin Karlekar, the managing editor of the Freedom House report.

Harassment and violence, up sharply, have victimized both ends of the political spectrum. In March 2010 alone, six journalists were killed.

“It is unclear who is behind it. A lot of cases are not really investigated,” Ms. Karlekar said in an interview earlier this month.

The latest case involves Luis Mendoza, who was reportedly gunned down in the city of Danli in the eastern part of Honduras. So far there are no arrests or motives. In another incident last week, journalist Héctor Francisco Medina Polanco was also gunned down and killed.

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) called on authorities to promptly investigate the attack. Groups have criticized impunity involving journalist deaths.

The polarization of the country grew in the wake of Zelaya’s forced ouster from the country by political opponents angry with his proposals for constitutional reform, which they said was a ploy to end term limits for presidents. Zelaya, who has been in exile ever since, has long denied this.

Now violence could intensify – Zelaya plans to return to the country this month, nearly two years after his forced departure.

For an in-depth look at the plight of journalists in Honduras, check out this article from the ground from Latin American News Dispatch.

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