Guatemala: Regional Skills and Safety Workshops

In 2011/12, the Trust teamed up with Guatemalan partner CERIGUA to provide much-needed safety and skills training to 62 local freelance journalists around the country.

The 2-day courses covered risk assessment, good practice and law and were aimed at freelancers most at risk from the violence and intimidation that has escalated against journalists in recent years. The Trust paid for travel to and from the wokshops and for overnight accommodation.

RPT spoke to two freelancers - Luis Loarca Guzman and Antonia Benito - who attended the workshop in Escuintla in the south of Guatemala.  We asked them about their work and what they had learned.

How long have you been working as a freelance journalist?
Luis Loarca Guzman: 15 years
Antonia Benito: 2 years

What are the main stories / issues in your area?
Luis: I mainly produce columns about the problems facing our communities – stories that often the mainstream media don’t cover.
Antonia: Social and cultural issues, and what is happening in the community. Also religious topics.

What are the main challenges / difficulties that you
face as a freelance journalist?
Luis: Firstly, the problem of self-censorship. You often find yourself involved in a delicate situation and its easy not to address sensitive issues, especially with corruption-related topics.
Antonia: One of the challenges we face as journalists is the lack of openmindedness by the authorities when confronted with a news piece that they don’t agree with. At the moment, journalists risk being censored or intimidated, especially when dealing with issues related to extortion or kidnapping.

Have you ever had any training regarding risk assessment, good practice or law?
Luis: Only this one. This kind of training in the provinces is really appreciated, as these courses generally take place in the capital.
Antonia: No, this was the first one and I found it very valuable.

Do you feel more confident about your work as a freelance journalist after attending this workshop?
Antonia: Yes. Not only because we are now more knowledgeable about freedom of expression and the constitution, but also because we know when a journalist has to take care of his or her own physical safety and integrity.
Luis: I feel more optimistic because I’ve learned new things. For example, I didn’t know about safety protocol and I learned some very valuable measures there. And with the legal resources, I now feel more confident about my journalism.

How important do you think these workshops are for freelance journalists in Guatemala?
They are of the utmost importance. They should continue and also should happen more often. I’d like to see more participants.
Antonia: They are very important because as freelance journalists, we don’t have a particular organisation behind us to train us or provide us with resources. It is very important to reach out to the regions, to train us and inform us about how
we journalists have responsibilities, how we should take care of our integrity, know the law and seek support.

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