Guatemala cites newspaper smears

The Guatemalan government said on its official Web site that it is investigating the newspaper elPeriódico because the paper continues an anti-government smear campaign.

The Inter American Press Association immediately protested the posting and called the action  “a new abuse by the government to the detriment of press freedom.”

The government had since Monday been carrying on its portal an article headlined “Newspaper elPeriódico continues anti-government smear campaign,” publishing in advance the content of a report that the newspaper ran. The intent is to discredit
the journalistic work, said the Inter American Press Association.

The elPeriódico report that the government alluded to was headlined “An afternoon at the vice president’s estate.” The newspaper report was critical of the existence of a luxury property owned by Vice President Roxana Baldetti acquired while she was a member of the federal congress.

The story by the elPeriódico investigative team criticized the pomposity of the assets compared to the salaries of public servants.

The chairman of the press association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, declared, “We are astonished that the government has made access to editorial content and has used it initially to defend itself and distort journalistic work.”

Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, added, “To have obtained and used those materials is a criminal act that is in line with a new abuse by the government in detriment to press freedom.” He added, “This is not a good message that the government sends to the Guatemalan media and journalists.”

Paolillo described the incident as new, after recalling that the press association has been denouncing systematic outrages by the government of President Otto Pérez and Vice President Baldetti against elPeriódico, which were the motive of an international mission to the Central American country in February.

On that occasion the Inter American Press Association criticized the government for having taken legal, administrative and taxation actions and discriminating in the provision of official advertising to elPeriódico, and for putting pressure on private sector advertisers to stop placing ads in that newspaper. All these actions were taken in reprisal for the investigations and editorial opinions concerning the work of the president and vice president, the press association said.

The IAPA has been calling upon the government to set aside its campaigns of harassment of elPeriódico and to set up technical mechanisms to ensure equitable distribution of official advertising and prevent its being used to reward or punish media.

The Inter American Press Association is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere, including the parent corporation of A.M. Costa Rica, and is based in Miami, Florida.

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