New Honduran Government Accused Of Censorship
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The question of who should run the Honduran government moves to the negotiation table today. The deposed president is sitting down in nearby Costa Rica with the man who took his place as president. But the possibility of a quick solution seems remote. Outside Honduras, the circumstances of President Manuel Zelaya's removal seem clear cut - a military coup ousted the democratically elected leader - but inside the country, the picture is quite different. And much of that has to do with how the media reported the takeover.
NPR's Juan Forero reports from Honduras.
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JUAN FORERO: On Sunday, women prayed outside the airport in the capital, hoping for the deposed president to return home. It was a dramatic moment in the midst of a big rally, thousands of people demanding the return of Manuel Zelaya to office.
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But this demonstration and others like it have gotten little attention on Honduras's main TV channels. Carlos Laria(ph) monitors press freedom in Latin America for the Committee to Protect Journalists. He says many TV and radio outlets first blacked out coverage of the coup, and now present the overthrow as democratic and legal.
Mr. CARLOS LARIA (Committee to Protect Journalists): There was an information vacuum created by this situation, so Honduran citizens were not able to be informed about the critical events that were happening.
FORERO: At Sunday's pro-Zelaya rally troops fired on the crowd and attacked American cameramen caught on film. At least one young man was killed.
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Crowds shouted, Assassins, assassins, and demanded justice. That day, though, the state commandeered the airwaves.
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FORERO: And announced only that there'd been a protest in which demonstrators had grown violent. No mention was made of the shooting or that soldiers could be responsible. Carlos Laria of the Committee to Protect Journalists said the sitting government has effectively clamped down on press outlets critical of the government. Soldiers have raided TV and radio outlets allied with Zelaya.
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Esdras Amado Lopez's small TV station with its folkloric jingle that plays before the news hour was among those targeted. Soldiers took over the station he built from scratch and Lopez went into hiding for several days. He's back on air now but shaken.
Mr. ESDRAS AMADO LOPEZ (Owns radio station): I feel bad, because this is my job. This is my dream and I worked very hard to have this station. I like to communicate to the people, the truth.
FORERO: Others, like Alejandro Villatoro, who owns Radio Global, said they were roughed up.
MR. ALEJANDRO VILLATORO (Owner, Radio Global): (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: He says soldiers, after bursting into the station, put him face down and pointed guns at his head. A spokesman for the president's office did not return calls.
Ramon Custodio Lopez is the state's human rights ombudsman, empowered to investigate violations of press freedom. He said he's heard about the raids on broadcast stations. But he's not investigating. He explained he's received no official complaints.
Mr. RAMON CUSTODIO LOPEZ (Human rights ombudsman): I think it was just an incident. It has not continued. There is no censorship. And all the constitutional rights are still enforced.
FORERO: He added that Honduran media overage since the coup had been, quote, "very good."
Juan Forero, NPR News, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
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