Overview of the concentration of media ownership in Guatemala

Centro Civitas*/ Guatemala, August 2014

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Overview of the concentration of media ownership in Guatemala (*1)

1. Country information

Located in Central America and bordering Mexico, El Salvador, Belize and Honduras, Guatemala has a land area of ​​approximately 108,900 square kilometers. According to the World Bank, in 2014 its population is estimated at 15.08 million, 51.2% of which are women. The country has a predominantly young population, the average age being 17 years, with 70% of inhabitants under the age of 35. The National Statistical Institute of Guatemala (INE) estimated in 2012 that the percentage of people identifying themselves as indigenous was 40%, while 51% stated that they lived in rural areas. Average population density is 135 people per square kilometer. The total fertility rate is 3.1 and the gross birth rate stands at 25.8. Life expectancy at birth is estimated at 71.4 years according to the Human Development Report published in 2013 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The above mentioned report also lists the country in the medium human development group, ranked at 133, which is lower than Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. In Latin America and the Caribbean, only Haiti is ranked lower on the index, a situation caused principally by income inequality. Gross national income per capita is USD 4.235, which is higher than two of the country’s neighbors, although said neighbors do spend more on education and health. According to the 2011 National Survey of Living Conditions (INE), non-extreme poverty stands at 41% of the population, while extreme poverty affects approximately 13%; almost 50% of children under 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition. For its part, average length of schooling is 4 years. In short, Guatemalans are today faced by many challenges in terms of human development.

2. Legislation and social media

We should start by mentioning that Article 46 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala establishes the general principle that in terms of human rights, treaties and conventions signed and ratified by the Guatemalan government take precedence over domestic law. Unfortunately, we did not find any data beyond 2006 on the number of radio and television receivers in the country, thus such data is omitted from this report.

Freedom of speech is recognized and monitored through Article 35 of the Constitution, which states that the freedom of thought and expression can not be restricted by any government law or regulation, that there exists the right to rectification. Furthermore, it is not an offence or crime to publish criticism, complaints and accusations against officials who hold office, although such persons can call upon a court of honor when such declarations are deemed inaccurate or there is no basis to an accusation.

Moreover, the activity of social media is in the public interest and such organizations can not be expropriated or have their operations interrupted in any way. There should be free access to sources of information, which can not be limited by any form of authority. The Constitution also indicates that the State can not use the authorization, limitation or cancelation of broadcasting licenses as a form of pressure or coercion of the freedom of thought and expression, that offenses and crimes will be dealt with by a special court and that media organizations should provide their reporters with life insurance. The Constitution also establishes as a regulatory standard the Law on the Expression of Thought, contained in the Decree, which sets out in detail the aforementioned and establishes mechanisms for print and honor tribunals.

Constitutional Article 5 recognizes the Right to hold an Opinion, while article 30 establishes the principle of the Publication of Administrative Acts, except for matters of national security, or information provided by individuals under guarantee of confidentiality. This principle and that of Habeas data, referred to in Article 31, are set out in detail in the Law on Access to Public Information, Decree 57-2008.

Special emphasis should also be placed on Constitutional Article 130, which prohibits monopolies and privileges, and Article 340 of the Penal Code which establishes fines and imprisonment for those who engage in monopolistic activities.

There are also specific and regulatory laws directed at media companies: The Broadcasting Act (Decree 260), which regulates services in this area; the Telecommunications Law (Decree 94-96 and amendments), which regulates the use and exploitation of the radio spectrum, as well as the Law of Copyright and Related Rights (Congressional Decree 33-89), which includes some provisions focused on the Internet, among others. In addition, Government Agreement 574-98 regulates the operation of satellite systems in Guatemala, and there are also specific laws such as that for the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents, which also includes provisions for social media.

Also important to mention are those agreements that were promulgated by the State, such as the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which contain provisions designed to provide such peoples with access to the media; however, these agreements have so far not been enforced. Unfortunately in the case of Guatemala, fundamental laws are needed such as a specific Media or Community Radio law, the absence of which results in exclusion and undemocratic practices in terms of the allocation of radio frequencies.

3. A bird’s eye view of the media system

Depending on their ownership, social media in Guatemala can be divided as follows: Private; state/public, and some community media. The best example of the latter that comes to mind is Qawinaqel Radio, 98.3 FM in Palin; and Escuintla, which forms part of a project to rescue the Poqoman culture. However, as many of these radio stations operate without a broadcasting license, and others are a hybrid of faith and community initiatives, it is very difficult to provide an accurate overview.

The state system comprises printed media, the Diario de Centro America; the TGW radio network, which has several local stations such as TGQ in Quetzaltenango, and Radio Nacional Tikal in Petén; and two television channels -TV Maya and the Congress channel- respectively provided to promote the Academy of Mayan Languages ​​and the work of the legislature. State bodies also have access to websites and social networks, allowing them to communicate more effectively with citizens. Nevertheless, it should also be noted that the state media system in Guatemala is rather precarious and can not match their audiences with those of the commercial networks, even though the printed press, radio and television in Guatemala have arisen thanks to State initiatives.

With regard to the system of private media ownership, this is dominated by commercial interests and to a lesser extent by religious or sectarian entities, mainly belonging to the Catholic and Evangelical churches. There are no public print media, although some digital outlets, such as Public Plaza, largely fulfill that role. Among the privately-owned printed media are large, medium and small-scale publications, generally reflecting the financial capabilities of their owners. That is, from newspapers such as Nuestro Diario and Prensa Libre, to newsletter-type publications that circulate at departmental and municipal levels, including Actualidad Ipalteca run by Ipala Chiquimula. It is almost impossible to provide a breakdown of these small media ventures as they tend to constantly appear and disappear.

In the area of television there are also large and medium-sized businesses, which operate mainly open TV channels, via cable and pay-per-view. The so-called «cable companies» began to emerge in the country in the 1980s and led to the emergence of small entrepreneurs and local television programming. It should also be noted that over the last decade an expansion has been witnessed in pay-per-view television services.

Finally it is essential to mention the major providers of Internet and Digital Telephony: Tigo, Claro and Telefonica, their importance based on the fact that the services they provide have enabled the emergence of new mass media and the digitization and convergence of traditional media.

4. Overview of ownership

It should first be clarified that the strong trend in the country is towards trans-nationalization and the formation of media and telecommunications conglomerates, broken down per area as follows:

Internet and mobile phone services: In its recently issued «Freedom of Expression and the Internet», the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights established that the main guidelines in this area are: universal access, pluralism, non-discrimination and privacy.

In terms of universal access, it was indicated that this refers to “the need to guarantee connectivity and access to the Internet infrastructure and other ICT services that is universal, ubiquitous, equitable, truly affordable, and of adequate quality, all throughout the State’s territory.” Compliance with this principle implies the elimination of the digital gap in countries, which is not only related to the availability of access, but also with the quality of services provided and the transfer of knowledge to users so that it may be used beneficially.

With regard to intermediaries, these are not only the main ones already mentioned, i.e. the large service providers, but also those offering web hosting services, social networking platforms and search engines.

Guatemala is ranked as a country with medium access to the Internet. According to data from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) for 2010, internet penetration stood at 16.2%, with 2,280,000 users. Luis Furlan, a researcher at the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala, stated that the country is closing its digital gap with other nations, but is unfortunately increasing the gap at domestic level, which may be due to two main reasons: the absence of State policies and the fact that companies view the market as being too small to make any major investments in infrastructure and broadband services, albeit a market that companies exploit, as it is an expensive service.

In terms of the concentration of ownership of broadband service providers, it should be mentioned that the larger telephony companies have been squeezing out the smaller firms. Consequently, and in the absence of state interventions, their decisions virtually dictate the development of this sector in the country. Moreover, the caution exercised by business owners along with the high price of this service in Guatemala, meant that in 2012 there were only 458,000 subscribers to the broadband service, although that still represented the highest number in Central America.

With respect to fixed line and mobile telephony in Guatemala, data provided by the Superintendency of Telecommunications (SIT) indicated that in the second half of 2013 there were 1,863,052 fixed line users  and 21,716,357 mobile phone subscribers (the latter measured by the number of cell phones, which means that each person has more than one device). With regard to fixed line telephony, the largest operator is Telgua (Claro3) with 69.75% of the market, while the remaining segment is dominated by Comcel (Tigo) and Telefónica. As for mobile telephony, Comcel (Tigo) handles 47% of the market, Telgua (Claro) 31% and Telefonica (Movistar) 22%.

Regarding the phenomenon of ownership concentration and the role of the State, suffice to say that mobile phone operators and Internet in Guatemala represents a realm of privilege, and not only because in 2012 Congress passed a law extending operating licenses then in force for a further 20 years, but also because in April 2014 the government promulgated Decree 12-2014, which provides market protection to the three aforementioned companies.

It is said, sotto voce, that Mario Estrada, Tigo’s main shareholder and former Minister of Communications in the government of Vinicio Cerezo, lobbied the Guatemalan Congress directly for this law. The legislature passed the so-called ‘Tigo Law, which fosters an oligopoly in the sector, in record time: one hour.

Television. Terrestrial television arrived in Guatemala in the mid 50s, satellite television via cable in the 80s, while the following decade witnessed the arrival of pay-per-view satellite TV, an area that has seen an expansion of users in recent years. According to data published for 2014 by the Supervisory and Control Unit for Cable Television, of the Ministry of Communications, this sector has a penetration of 80% in the country’s metropolitan area and 50% in the rest of the country. Of the 428 companies offering this service, 49 operate without any legal authority and more than 95% transmit channels without paying for the corresponding broadcasting rights. Two cable operators provide the service to more than 50% of the 800,000 households that receive it: Comtech, owned by Carlos Slim, and Intercentro.

One interesting factor about cable TV is that it has become the domain ‘par excellence’ of politicians such as Manuel Baldizon, often called the Berlusconi of Petén, as he owns 75% of related companies in that department of the country, and has extended his franchise nationwide, surpassing even some conventional TV networks. Baldizón now controls the majority caucus in the Republic’s Congress. Then there are politicians like Mario Rivera and Mario Estrada from the country’s eastern sector, as well as certain individuals with links to drug trafficking, like Juan Ortiz Chamalé in Huehuetenango.

Regarding pay-per-view television, a report by the Business Bureau consultancy indicates that this type of service in Guatemala has a penetration of 30% with 22% of households connected illegally, representing total coverage of 52%. In Latin America, one of the most powerful operators is Sky, accessed within the Latin America via the DirectTV Group. It should be remembered that DirectTV arrived in the region via Hughes Electronics, a subsidiary of General Motors, which inherited the U.S. business empire of Howard Hughes. Central America is dominated by Carlos Slim’s America Movil, whose subsidiary in Guatemala is Claro, which has provided Sky services since 2012.

With regard to the granting of television broadcasting frequencies, since 2000 the inventory records for this area have not been made public. Thus in 2014 it was necessary to apply for clarification citing the Law on Access to Public Information, however the data provided lacked any information regarding franchise beneficiaries. On the Superintendency of Telecommunications (SIT) website, the formats that should contain this information are empty. We have reported this omission to the office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights.

According to the information that was provided to us, thirteen VHF frequencies have been awarded (channels 2 to 13), and we have unofficially been told that at least eight belong to the so-called de facto monopoly, in which Ángel González and his Televideo Services Inc., based in Miami,4 are the majority shareholders. These are channels 3, 7, 11 and 13, along with repeat channels 2 (13), 6 (11), 8 (7) and 10 (3). As mentioned previously, two VHF channels are public (the Academy of Mayan Languages ​​and the Congress channel).

As in the case of telephony, in November 2012 the Guatemalan Congress approved a bill proposed by the Líder section, which extended the franchise rights of González and his partners from 15 to 20 years.

With respect to UHF frequencies, 49 have been granted. We know that many belong to religious organizations, but we have no information in order to analyze if there is ownership concentration and whether some also belong to Gonzalez, which is what certain rumors have indicated.

Radio. This media format was formally introduced into Guatemala via the United States, when Radio TGW began broadcasting in 1930. Radio has the greatest penetration in the country, estimated at 98% of the population. And although the phenomenon of ownership concentration is lower, it is apparent and like television has certain political implications.

The inventory of frequencies provided by SIT indicates that eight AM frequencies providing national coverage and 307 offering municipal coverage have been awarded. In the FM spectrum, 92 frequencies have been allocated to provide coverage at municipal level.

Once again, due to the lack of information that should be officially public, we can not provide accurate numbers, although we can indicate that Angel Gonzalez and his partners control 83 frequencies, through the companies Central de Radios S.A. (41) and Grupo Tajin (42). Another important group is Alius with 69 frequencies. While one group that has grown in importance is Emisoras Unidas, which in 2004 stated that it had 40 frequencies, acquiring eight new ones in 2013, from 13 bidding processes. On its website, the company states that it has 37 frequencies. In addition, this group represents MTV in Guatemala, publishes the Publinews daily newspaper and the Contrapoder magazine; and owns Canal Antigua and other companies providing interactive and advertising services. One of Emisoras owners is currently Minister of Energy and Mines, Erick Archila.

Printed media. It could be stated that even when Prensa Libre and Nuestro Diario do not represent the same business group in the market, the first of these media organizations is definitely the dominant force, especially considering their coverage via the Internet. Reports up to May 2011 indicate that this group received 54% of all web traffic for newspapers in Guatemala, while Nuestro Diario received 22%. And at a time when advertising and revenue for the printed media has plummeted, thanks to its web traffic the Prensa Libre Group continues to be the market leader for printed media in Guatemala. Other newspapers that have not been mentioned have only a minority share of the market.

As an example we can state that only from November 2012 to March 2013, the Secretariat of Social Communications of the Presidency paid Prensa Libre the sum of GTG 1,751,449.05 or nearly USD 226 million at current exchange rates. In the same period, El Periódico, a group that has accused the government of censorship, has not received a single cent. The second largest media beneficiary was Nuestro Diario, which received nearly GTQ 920 thousand, equivalent to more than USD 118,000 at current exchange rates.

5. Conclusions

Guatemala is a country where there are no obstacles to the interests of multinational and domestic media organizations, to which politicians that form part of State bodies serve in exchange for bribes or by obeying direct orders. The lack of updated laws and the absence of policies, whether public or governmental, in order to safeguard Freedom of Speech, only benefit such owners. Added to this is the lack of interest of officials to enforce existing laws, which has all led to the concentration of media ownership that can be witnessed today. The effects are many: significant underdevelopment of cultural industries; restrictions on freedom of expression and the press, and other non-fulfillment of civil rights. Moreover, there also exists censorship, self-censorship, exclusion, domination, corruption, high-cost services, and the unfathomable restriction of the possibilities for social and economic development. And perhaps one of the worst aspects, the lack of journalistic independence, which has a decisive impact on the quality of media coverage provided to the general public. If we closely analyze all these effects, we can conclude that what is happening represents a real tragedy that impacts people’s lives more than we imagine.

* Centro Civitas is an alliance of organizations working with media outlets on social and human rights issues.

  1. «The concept of centralization can thus be used to refer to this asymmetry and involves the increased power of a small number of firms or groups. These processes are inseparable, and the term concentration refers to the double phenomenon of concentration/centralization.» Mastrini G., Becerra M. (2009), Los monopolios de la verdad  (The monopolies of truth), Buenos Aires: Prometeo Libros.
  2. 0.38, according to ITU, compared to 0.85 in Sweden.
  3. De la Millicom International Celular, S. A.
  4. Other companies belonging to González are Belleville Investmets Limited and Alba Visión.
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