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In Honduras, a media crackdown

Media situation in Honduras reflects larger battle in region between leftist leaders and oligarchs.

A supporter of Honduras' ousted President Manuel Zelaya writes a poster during a march in Tegucigalpa, July 1, 2009. The Honduran interim government said on Wednesday there was "no chance at all" of Zelaya returning to power after a coup last weekend, defying international pressure to restore the leftist leader. The poster reads, "El Heraldo, the newspaper supporting the coup." (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — At the Channel 36 TV station in this sweltering capital, the buzzing, hectic atmosphere of a news network has been replaced by an ominous silence.

The doors are held shut with huge industrial padlocks, bored-looking soldiers stand on the sidewalk and the journalists are nowhere to be seen.

Since taking power Sunday after a coup against elected-president Manuel Zelaya, the new administration has shut down a major TV station, several radio stations and a newspaper. It has also cut off signals from some international networks, including Venezuela-based Telesur.

Meanwhile, those media outlets still running heap praise on the regime of Roberto Micheletti. “Defending the Constitution,” blears the headline in one newspaper reporting the consolidation of the new government. “Zelaya Out, We Want Peace,” says another.

Such control of the media is perhaps a predictable development from a government that came to power after the elected head of state was forced out of his home at gunpoint and taken on a plane to neighboring Costa Rica.

But the media battle over the Honduras coup also reflects larger news-related issues as leftist governments have risen to power in the region.

Longstanding commercial networks controlled by wealthy families have often had head-on collisions with leftist leaders, who accuse them of undermining their governments.

In reaction, business interests accuse stations controlled by leftist presidents of demonizing the rich and dividing nations along class lines.

“The media across Latin America has become much more polarized in recent years. There is more of an atmosphere of saying, “You have to be with us or against us,” said Elan Reyes, president of Honduras’ journalist association.

In power, the left-leaning Zelaya had a fiery relationship with the dominant TV channels in Honduras, which are controlled by some of the nation’s richest families.

When they criticized him for raising the minimum wage by more than 50 percent, saying he was clobbering business, he lashed back, alleging that they were part of an “elite group” of oligarchs who want to keep the poor downtrodden.

Fighting for control of the airwaves, he set up a government Channel 8, which celebrated his achievements and loyally showed him traipsing through poor villages hugging corn growers and banana workers.