A human rights lawyer dependent on independent media | #mediadev | DW | 21.11.2016
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People Using Media

A human rights lawyer dependent on independent media

Meet a lawyer who grew up in a refugee camp after escaping the massacre of Mayan communities by the Guatemalan state. Today he trusts only independent media for information. 

César Canil was only four years old when his family left their remote village in northern Guatemala to escape the army, which was systematically killing indigenous Mayan people. In the genocide of 1982-83, more than 600 Mayan villages were razed, crops burned and livestock slaughtered, and tens of thousands of people were displaced and murdered. 

Canil, who grew up in a refugee camp in Mexico, returned to Guatemala when he was 17, eventually studying law at the national university. He now works as a lawyer for the Center for Human Rights Legal Action in Guatemala, an organization involved in putting together evidence to help prosecute genocide perpetrators. 

Because of his background and work, Canil feels it's vitally important to stay informed about the progress of his country's genocide trials, as well as issues of national policy. 

Guatemala César Canil Anwalt für Menschenrechte bentuzt Smartphone

Investigative news platform Plaza Pública

One of the few sources of independent information in Guatemala is Plaza Pública, a news platform that publishes investigative reports with a human rights focus. Canil uses his smartphone to check the site daily. 

"I liked the reports and the coverage they gave to the genocide trials in 2013 and also their investigative reports during the 2015 elections," he says. 

Canil also enjoys reading other alternative digital media like the Centro de Medios Independentes (Center for Independent Media) and Nómada, two newly created outlets that pursue journalistic investigations on politics, justice, environment and human rights.

Internet remains a privilege

In his work, Canil often visits the Ixil area in Guatemala's remote highlands, where many indigenous people were massacred. He says it is unfortunate that people there have limited access to the Internet and therefore have to rely on stations which broadcast exaggerated or unverified information.

Even Canil only has Internet access on his phone and the plan is expensive, costing him 340 Guatemalan Quezal ($45, or 41 euros) per month. According to Freedom House, an organization that monitors press freedom around the world, only around 27 percent of Guatemala's population accessed the Internet in 2015, one of the lowest rates in Latin America. 

"It would be ideal if everyone could read independent information but there is still much poverty and poor access to education in this country," Canil says.

He also thinks his country needs a greater diversity of alternative not-for-profit media. In Guatemala, media outlets are concentrated in the hands of business elites, which favor conservative perspectives and often fail to cover stories that conflict with their business interests. 

Written by Angelica Medinilla 

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