Marco Cáceres di Iorio

Freedom of the Press at Stake in Honduras

There is nothing inherently wrong with the government regulating telecommunications or freedom of speech. If the Honduran government wants to stimulate more competition within Honduras’ media broadcast industry and break up some of the monopolies in order to create more community broadcasters and more diversity in news and editorial content, then great.

Regulating speech is much more delicate and problematic because it’s such a potentially dangerous, slippery slope. How far do you go in restricting freedom of speech, and who determines those restrictions? It’s tricky enough to regulate speech in well-structured and -educated nations like the United States and in Europe, but in Honduras?

But clearly freedom of speech, like any other freedom, is not absolute. No rational person will argue that people should be allowed to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. The issue isn’t about the rightness of regulating freedom of speech, but rather the “degree” of regulation. In the U.S., if you’re someone who prefers less government regulation, you’re more likely to be a Conservative or Libertarian. If you’re more comfortable with more, then you’re more apt to be a Liberal or Socialist.

Unless you’re an outright Anarchist, you’ll probably agree that some degree of regulation is wise, or at least necessary.

The matter facing Honduras with regard to the Telecommunications “Gag Law” is not so much about regulation as it is about press “censorship” and the fear of an impending totalitarian government — kind of like in the days of President Manuel Zelaya, just before he was ousted in a coup in 2009. There is a real concern that the telecommunications reform bill currently being considered by the Honduran Congress aims to dictate ethics and morality (and prescribe severe penalties for violators), and will thereby lead to an erosion of the power of the media—a key player in society’s system of checks and balances.

The government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa and the Congress, led by Congressman Juan Orlando Hernández (who is also the Nationalist Party’s presidential candidate in this year’s general elections) have already destroyed the independence of Honduras’ Judiciary branch of government through their dismissal of Supreme Court justices last year, in addition to the recent suspension of the Attorney General and Assistant Attorney General.

The fear that the Honduran press is now next in line and that Honduras may be quickly headed toward totalitarianism — less than four years after Mr. Zelaya’s less than gracious exit—is a legitimate one.

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