Honduras Television Presenter Assassinated
Surge in Violence Against Media in Honduras Continues
By: Scott Griffen, IPI Associate
VIENNA, April 25, 2012 – A well-known Honduran television presenter and two others were killed Monday morning when they came under fire from unknown assailants while exiting the studios of Maya TV in Tegucigalpa.
Noel Alexander Valladares, 28, popularly known as “El Tecolote” (“The Owl”), hosted a daily entertainment program of the same name in which he administered a lottery and other games of chance. According to news reports, Valladares had finished taping the show’s Monday’s edition and was leaving by car with three additional passengers when the attack occurred.
Local media, citing eyewitness accounts, say four men emerged from a white pick-up truck and fired at Valladares’s vehicle. In addition to the journalist himself, his uncle, Renán Adonis Valladares Escoto and his bodyguard, Marcos Adrián Gutiérrez Andrade, were also killed. Valladares’s wife and co-presenter, Nelly Yorleny Pavón, was seriously wounded. Several reports suggested that Valladares had saved his wife by covering her with his body when shots broke out.
Yorleny Pavón was rushed to a local hospital, where she was interviewed by agents of Honduras’ National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (DNIC, according to its Spanish acronym) before undergoing surgery to remove shrapnel from her legs. Valladares’s wife reportedly told the agents that the four attackers, who fled the scene in their vehicle, had worn ski masks.
International Press Institute (IPI) Acting Deputy Director Anthony Mills said: “We condemn this act of violence and extend our condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr. Valladares. To his wife, Nelly Pavón, we wish a speedy and complete recovery. Honduran authorities must immediately open an investigation to determine whether Mr. Valladares’ murder is related to his work, and must bring those responsible for his death to justice.”
Valladares is the third journalist to be killed in Honduras this year, equaling Brazil and trailing only Somalia and war-torn Syria in terms of media deaths in 2012. Violence against the media in Honduras has skyrocketed since June 2009, when former president Manuel Zelaya was removed from power in what the Organisation of American States and numerous international observers considered a coup d’état.
According to IPI’s Death Watch, 21 journalists have been killed in Honduras since the beginning of July 2009, compared with five between 1997 and June 2009. The surge in media-related crime has occurred in the context of sharply rising generalised violence: according to a 2011 United Nations study, Honduras now has the world’s highest official murder rate, at 86 homicides per 100,000 residents. In 2008, that number stood at 59.7, according to the Autonomous University of Honduras’s Violence Observatory.
Nevertheless, Mills cautioned against drawing a direct link between violent crime and the murders of journalists. “Despite a high incidence of armed robbery in Honduras, we encourage police not to rush to judgment when a journalist is killed – authorities should conduct careful investigations and not rule out the possibility that journalists are being specifically targeted for their reporting or political leanings.”