The media landscape of Guatemala is going through a complex phase of rearrangement. Changes range from the adaptation of print, television and radio to digital versions, to the reconfiguration of business models that were successful for decades, but have then become obsolete due to the new dynamics of communication and the Internet. However, television and radio continue to be the media with the wider reach.
In his book Historia del Periodismo en Guatemala (History of Journalism in Guatemala) Alfonso María Landerach indicates that the first newspaper registered in the country was the Gazeta de Guatemala in 1729, which was the second newspaper born in Latin America. Up to 1841 there were 57 newspapers, among them El Editor Constitucionalista (The Constitutional Publisher), the first to take the flag of the emancipation from Spain. In contrast El Amigo de la Patria (The Friend of the Fatherland) was born from a conservative directive and in defense of the crown supporters. "The controversies that both newspapers sustained gave rise to the founding of two opposing parties" points Landerach. Up to 1871, 80 newspapers were registered.
Print news corporations such as Prensa Libre (Free Press) and La Hora (The Hour) began to form during the era of military dictatorships, which ended in 1985, and consolidated after the signing of the peace treaty in 1996 (eg elPeriódico and the defunct Siglo XXI). By 2018, among the relevant active media focused on political news, there are five televisions (three from the same owner), six native digital outlets and five radios, plus others of lesser importance. Two printed formats have disappeared since 2013.
By 2018, 83 percent of Guatemalan households owned a television, whereas a report published by Hootsuite indicates that only 40 percent have Internet access. The gap in digital access to information puts digital versions of print media and digital natives at a huge disadvantage. Their business models are based on the sale of newspapers on the street (increasingly less effective) to attract readers to their website. This implies that no matter how successful their strategies are, at the moment it is not possible for them to match the reach of television and radio, since they will only reach a third of Guatemalans.
The relationship between media and political parties was portrayed in 2015 by the report Financiamiento de la Política en Guatemala (Financing of Politics in Guatemala) prepared by the Comisión Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (Commission Against Corruption in Guatemala - CICIG). This report highlights the importance of media in molding public opinion. In different sections, the document emphasises that radio and television have had more weight than print and digital media.
A study published in 2009 by The Trust for the Americas and the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (Institute for Press and Society - IPYS) highlights that "In few countries, such a high level of concentration of ownership of the media will be found, as in Guatemala.” The CICIG report confirmed this assertion six years later by ensuring that there are three major problems in the relationship between media and politics: a) There is a high concentration of national media, especially open television and radio networks that cover the whole country; b) Dispersion in the local, departmental and regional media; and c) Emergence of media groups linked to political leaders.
The concentration of media is represented mainly by Mexican businessman Ángel González, owner of television and radio stations in 14 countries in Latin America. In Guatemala, he owns the Albavisión corporation (named after his wife Alba Lorenzana) owner of the frequencies of channels 3, 7, 11 and 13, which technically makes him the owner of a monopoly of open television. The only competition in unpaid television are the channels of the National Congress and the Canal Maya (Maya Chanel), the first producing content limited to institutional information and the latter producing little to no content produce.
In Guatemala, the State does not have direct intervention on media, however, for decades it was able to achieve a certain level of influence through millionaire budgets destined for advertising. The current government (2016-2020) was the first to reduce this spending drastically. Those who did try to exercise direct control over the media were some politicians who tried to venture into the media business. While she was vice president, Roxana Baldetti bought the majority of shares of the newspaper Siglo XXI through cardboard companies and figureheads, with money coming mainly from bribes. When she was discovered she could not continue with the investment and the newspaper (which used to be one of the most important and critical of the government in office in Guatemala) went bankrupt.
Manuel Baldizón, frontrunner of the 2015 elections until citizen protests against corruption lowered his popularity, founded the magazine Es noticia, the newspaper La Nación and the television channel Canal+. They all disappeared after Baldizón lost the election. He is currently being detained in the United States accused of money laundering; in Guatemala he is also implicated in the globe-wide Odebrecht corruption case, so charges for embezzlement and illicit electoral financing await him. The bankruptcy of these media linked to politicians caused the unemployment of dozens of journalists.
With an approximate population of 17 million, Guatemala, is part of the so-called Triangulo Norte (North Triangle) together with El Salvador and Honduras, countries with similar socioeconomic, migratory, violence-related and drug trafficking issues. In the ranking of freedom of the press, the organisation Reporters Without Borders placed the country in the 116th place out of 180, in the range of countries in "difficult situation." In addition to low educational quality, journalists located outside the capital receive lower salaries and are more vulnerable to repression by local governments. Between 2016 and 2017, 11 journalists were killed, two of them died after being attacked with a firearm in the central park of Mazatenango, Suchitepéquez, following a publication made against the mayor of this municipality.
In 2017, a study prepared by Barómetro de las Américas (Barometer of the Americas) indicated that the media had a confidence level of 61.9 percent. However, it is possible that this index has dropped in 2018 as a result of the emergence of groups focused on defamation and the discrediting of the media that question the government.