Four key newspapers exist in Guatemala, all with nationwide distribution – these are all very different in terms of reporting quality and messaging, although each plays a key role in influencing the mindset of many in the country. From incredibly brave journalists who continue to write excellent original articles based on exposing government-related fraud or criticising aspects of the country’s various institutions and political figures, to sensationalists contributing to creating a culture of fear amongst its readers – the dichotomy in reporting shapes the outlook of its readers. The country’s literacy rate remains fairly low at 75.9%, with this being more reflective of the low education levels in rural and indigenous communities, resulting in an inability for certain segments of the population to participate in a better informed Guatemala, and an outsider’s view being reported about certain issues rather than these coming from communities themselves. A key left-wing bias comes through in the reporting, reflecting the ongoing struggle between the people and the politics, as well as the permeation of poverty within the country.
The most graphic publication of the four – Nuestro Diario (literally: “Our Daily”) – features a daily shock cover story ranging from various murders, to car accidents to newly captured criminals, accompanied by strong headlines. The newspaper was first published in January 1998, about a year after the Civil War ended. The publication quotes its circulation as reaching ‘316,648 families’ rather than number of true readers, and is a ‘content-light’ publication with easy-to-read language, featuring a mix of articles more akin to Australian Women’s Weekly/OK! magazine, in with crime focused articles. The graphic nature of the publication contributes to creating a culture of fear in the community, although on a daily basis, the top right hand corner of the front page features an item that completely counters the key content – featuring Jennifer Lopez’s new loves, Justin Bieber’s latest activities, Miss Guatemala, anniversary of Donald Duck, juices for health… after seeing a few too many graphic covers, there’s somewhat of a desensitisation from the dominant cover story to this top right hand corner.
Figure 1: Cover shots of Nuestro Diario
Siglo 21 (literally: “21st Century”) fills the gap between Nuestro Diario and the other key publications, Prensa Libre and el Periodico, thankfully, typically without the graphic covers. The newspaper does touch on some of the heavier issues impacting Guatemala without the in depth analysis and editorials are somewhat less forceful than those in Prensa Libre and el Periodico. Siglo 21 was founded in 1990, originally started by Jose Ruben Zamora (who established el Periodico in 1996), and was originally created to focus on exposing government corruption, human rights issues, and narcotics smuggling. The newspaper fell victim to severe censorship (wiki link) in 1993 with Zamora temporarily rebranding the newspaper Siglo 14th to reflect the backward nature of government censorship. Zamora left the newspaper in May 1996, just months before the end of the Civil War, after surviving a grenade attack on his car, and later founded El Periodico Guatemala. While this newspaper continues to publish stories that relate to its roots as an independent voice, Zamora has taken his approach to reporting and editorials to el Periodico and subsequently – the content of Siglo 21 is a lighter read than its peer publications.
Prensa Libre (literally “Free Press”) publishes 130,000 newspapers daily, with an estimated 7 readers per printed edition – so, a readership of about 910,000 daily – and reaches 600,000 readers between its printed and digital editions. Founded in 1951 by five in Guatemala City, the newspaper is seen as the oldest and one of the most independent news sources in the country. That said – Guatemalan telecommunications billionaire, Mario Lopez Estrada, owns a minority stake in the newspaper. Whilst no other publication could be as graphic (or borderline sensationalist) as Nuestro Diario, Prensa Libra does contain some graphic, although very considered illustrations of causes demonstrating viewpoints – such as the current tragic journeys of under aged children attempting to enter into the US, as regional governments try to increase awareness of what risks these children are subject to in attempting to cross the border into the US. This in itself is a complex issue – but La Prensa is contributing to these awareness campaigns – such as the below:
El Periodico (literally: “The Newspaper”) is often cited as ‘the’ independent newspaper of the country, founded by Jose Ruben Zamora in 1996. The newspaper is known not only for its very well written pieces, but also for strong views presented – such as the graphic below expressing the newspaper’s view on constitutional matters that are undergoing debate within Guatemala (a repeatedly published graphic).
Figure 3. Anti-constitutional promotion in el Periodico
Whilst still learning more about Guatemala everyday – the newspapers have provided excellent source material to start to understand this complex country and despite preconceived notions about freedom of press, the strong nature of written opinions in editorials, open criticism of government policies, politicians, corruption and budgetary decisions, combined with witty political daily cartoons came as a surprise. The existence of a visible anti-government bias in the media helps in gaining a further understanding of the various dimensions of key issues in Guatemala, and speaking to various people on the ground helps bring a well rounded view of the state of the nation at this point in time. No doubt – in between two divergent aspects of reporting lies the truth, and there’s so much more reading and learning to do everyday…
Bloomberg news regarding Mario Lopez Estrada: