Media legislation

The print press has its legal basis in the Press Law promulgated in 1921. Article 1 states that "It is free to express thoughts by word or in writing. No law or authority can establish prior censorship or require bail to authors or printers, or restrict freedom of the press. It has no limits other than respect for the rights of others, morality and public order, for the effect of the penalty incurred for the offense committed through the printing press. In no case may the printing press be seized as an instrument of crime." In this context, print media are subject to very few regulations by the state.

Starting from 1990 the audiovisual system in Honduras underwent a process of adaptation to new neoliberal regulations in telecommunications. In 1995, a new Framework Law on the Telecommunications Sector (LMT) was passed through decree 185-95 and subsequently amended in 1997 through decree-law 118-97. This norm regulates the granting of radio and television frequencies. There is no general media law in Honduras, so this law regulates radio, television and Internet. The automatic renewals of permits and the auction of radio frequencies prevent media and social organisations from having access to media ownership, in a system which responds solely to the logic of the market.

In the 2000s, some attempts were made to pass legislation encouraging media plurality. In 2013 AMCH was able to have an administrative regulation approved (09-2013), which came after extensive negotiations and advocacy with the regulatory body in telecommunications (Conatel). The reform achieved to renew the media landscape with the start-up of more than 25 radio frequencies and three community television stations, a significant advance in the inclusion of public policies in communications.

There are some rules on the content of the media, such is the case of the non-profit community radio broadcasting regulation that prohibits community media "to include partisan political content programming in their daily programming" (AMCH, 2013). At the same time, the law for the Classification of Public Documents related to defense and national security, popularly known as the "secrecy law" in force since 2014, was promulgated, preventing the media from reporting and obtaining information on topics such as national budget. It consists of 17 articles defining categories and relative classification periods: Reserved Information (5 years), Confidential Information (10 years), Secret Information (15 years) of Ultra Secret Information (25 years). These recent laws harden the exercise of journalism in Honduras on sensitive issues such as corruption. It is also unclear who issues these categories and who decides what information falls into what category or if beyond journalists, there are other organisations that have access to this information.

Regarding online content, it is important to mention the Cybersecurity decree still pending approval in the National Congress. According to the opinion of the congressional commission, this measure "will protect those who may be victims of acts of discrimination or hate crimes, including insult or defamation, or other crimes against public safety, it is imperative to implement a legal mechanism to regulate the management of information on social networks, and must establish obligations for the owners or administrators of websites for the prevention and fight against all forms of discrimination, hate crimes, or other crimes."

However, this provision has raised serious questions regarding its impact on journalists and online content creators’ capacity to critique the government and other public offices. The decree would require companies to block or remove all flagged content within 24hr of the initial complaint, to be then evaluated for permanent removal, with penalty the blocking of the entire website in case of non-compliance. This has been perceived as creating a de facto censorship mechanism due to unclear language and too-short compliance periods. As a result, the approval of the law has been stopped in its second debate.

Finally, in 2017 there was an attempt to reform article 335b of the Criminal Code, which is relevant for the practice of journalism. This article penalised the “apology, incitement or justification of the crime of terrorism” through public communication channels, with penalties of up to eight years imprisonment. As a result of the national and international pressure, the congress repealed this article from the penal code of Honduras in February 2018.