In a study of censorship and discrimination by Oscar Perez (2014), it is said that “Central America is a region where silence is imposed. Only in Honduras, seventy-two percent of journalists claim to have had some violation or obstruction to their work as a journalist; their work environment constitutes serious challenges to develop their activity effectively and above all in a safe way. This situation is detrimental to our democracy, and undermines the right to be informed of citizenship.”
Freedom of press is influenced by the fragility of the Honduran democratic system. The evolution of neoliberal legislation in the media was consolidated in 1990, with the idea that the strategic sector of the telecommunications market would be better off in the hands of private companies, leaving to the state a marginal participation in the regulation of it. This has been done under the premise that the state is a poor administrator and has caused media concentration. This scenario is far from the international standard established by the Naciones Unidas y el Sistema Interamericano (United Nations and the Inter-American System).
Consequently, the commercial media sector has reached a strong development, especially through television and audiovisual media. According to the document Performance of the Telecommunications of the Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (National Telecommunications Commission - Conatel) of 2017, television is the most suitable medium for the promotion of the strong market in Honduras, due to its national scope and the various ways of reaching consumers in terms of content and as immediate forms of promotion of linked advertisers (Banking, telecommunications, services). In addition, the structure of open television is highly concentrated and market oriented. According to the same report, there are a total of 338 licensed channels, most of which focus on private or commercial activity, and three on public, social or community activities, with consequences on the diversity and pluralism of the media system.
Another issue that explains the strengthening of oligopolies is that the media market is highly concentrated and the mainstream media are also partners of the advertising agencies and of the companies that they generally advertise (banking, telecommunications, and services). This leads to the statement that cross-ownership is a reality in the national media system. The print media and radio have been more affected by the recent economic and political crisis. In 2017, according to the 2017 study of Equipo, Reflexión y Comunicación (Team Reflection and Communication - ERIC) of the Jesus Company, 50.6 percent of Hondurans received news through TV, 27 percent through printed newspapers and 21 percent through radio. This has made print media and radio not profitable, forcing them to further stretch their links with politicians and economic elites to ensure their sustainability. An example is the approval of the law of publicity exchange with the State in return of tax cuts and payment of electricity bills.
The ideological connection of the media was historically defined from the time Honduras was a colony. The first newspapers were a tribune of the social and economic imaginary of conservative and liberal thought, contributing to the foundation of the Honduran right wing, with its own oligarchic characteristics. Entrepreneurs and owners of the media in Honduras have been characterised by their direct link with the traditional class that has ruled the country, either because of their relationship in business with the State or as members of the dominant political class. According to Mancini (2008) this shows that "the development of private media markets corresponds to a political parallel.”
In the case of Honduras, it can be seen that this process of political parallelism has existed at various moments in history. For example, the former President of Honduras, Carlos Flores, is the owner of one of the most influential media in the country. In addition deputies, ministers and renowned journalists are owners of TV channels and radio stations. As such, these channels often align with the political and/or ideological line of their patrons. This situation has favored a rather one-sided or biased style of reporting, often resulting in strong media polarization.
This context of politically-dominated media channels, and the high vulnerability surrounding free reporting, have a strong impact on journalistic ethics and practice. Given the dangers and volatility present in the country, journalists have often had to adapt to the logic of the overall context, which scarcely allows for independent or public-minded reporting. Achieving greater media independence from the country’s political and economic powers is a challenge for the profession and democracy at large. The low professionalism of the average Honduran journalist, and the lack of up-to-date academic curricula on the subject, mean that the journalistic practice still lacks the quality standards usually required to this profession. Moreover, journalism professionals are strongly constrained by political powers, who oftentimes focus more on protecting their own interests. Given these constraints on their freedom of expression, journalists are often at risk of marginalization, stigmatization, and in extreme cases can also risk their lives in the pursuit of their profession.
Objective, fact-based investigative journalism is today still in its embryonic phase. Journalism as a communicative action in Honduran society is not yet a process of citizen political mediation, which would strengthen the democratic system. On the other side of the spectrum, there are social communicators in community media, a space that offers an alternate information source outside traditional power structures, and that has the potential to promote fact-based reporting and more balanced narratives, opening communication spaces to numerous, traditionally weaker actors of civil society.
Professional organisations list Honduras as one of the most at risk countries to practice the profession. The precariousness of the journalistic activity in the country threatens the freedom of the press. According to the 2019 annual reports of Freedom House “Honduras, is classified as a ‘partly free’ country with a so-called Aggregate Freedom Score of 46 out of 100. This degree is consistent with the high levels of censorship associated with ideological submission, violence and criminalisation, which indicates that the union is debating survival.”
The Asociación de Prensa de Honduras (Press Association of Honduras - APH), has made visible the risks of practicing this profession. Self-censorship and censorship are the characteristics of the institutional weakness that Honduran journalists face on a daily basis. These elements strongly stunt the evolution of objective, independent journalism and raise the question of what the role of journalism in social fields can be when information is strongly influenced and regulated by economic and political interests. Given this scenario, the alternative to have access to information seems to be through social networks. This progressive relevance of social networks as a source of “unbiased” information serves to underlie the ongoing trust crisis in politically and economically-dominated traditional media, which lead people to seek alternative sources. Some of them do not self-name because of the social risks they imply.
On the one hand, the rise of social media and the maturation of a democratic process have increased the demand for more unbiased sources of information capable to nurture and sustain the development of a more dignified and just society; on the other hand, the entrenched power dynamics dominating both the political and the media spheres tend to serve the interests of the owners of local media and extensively of transnational communication companies.
The professional challenges faced by Honduran journalism can be summarised as follows:
First, there is a need to adapt to new technologies. Social networks and online communities have become a necessity in the development of journalism, in order to inform in an increasingly interconnected world (local and global). Platforms such as Twitter or Facebook are changing the way journalists work. The immediacy and interaction with receivers have become essential elements.
Second, there is the challenge of achieving the highest degree of credibility possible. The proliferation of information has caused the number of news published on the same subject to be very high and of questionable credibility.
Third, the existence of what is called branded content or sponsored content and the advertising linked to it is a potential obstacle to journalistic professionalism and its development, if information and advertising are not clearly differentiated.
In Honduras, State intervention in the media system is high, as media are not aware of their social role, nor are they struggling to maintain journalistic autonomy from the State. According to the social scholar Víctor Meza (Meza, 2002) "the democratic State also contains, within it, the forces that aim to control the press. The search for the submission of the press involves the need to create a "friendly press", discreetly conciliatory, suspiciously tolerant and understanding, not censored but seduced, attracted."
Hence, the Ley de rescate y promoción del sector de comunicaciones (Law on Rescue and Promotion of Communications) shows a clear evidence of this intervention in the media. A situation that limits media operations and makes them subject to the State. The functions of communication companies include the task of informing about the initiatives of the State, which have a formative and informative nature, that is, to benefit the population without excluding the media, to which, for their Democratic devotion is rewarded with punishment and censorship.