El Salvador | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

El Salvador

El Salvador

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

42

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

18

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

14

The media continued to be the target of both legal and extralegal harassment, with the murder of one journalist and the first case of a journalist being charged under new antiterrorism legislation occurring during 2007. Freedom of the press is protected under the constitution, and Salvadoran journalists are generally able to report freely on the news, including critical reporting on the government and opposition parties. At the same time, press freedom is hindered by a lack of public transparency, reflected in the absence of freedom of information legislation. The penal code grants judges the right to restrict media access to legal proceedings in cases they deem of importance to national security or when they determine that the publicity would prejudice the case. In a positive development, a court decision in August 2007 declared that media workers would no longer be summoned to testify in criminal cases. In March, the Legislative Assembly introduced a motion to subject staffers to a polygraph test in order to identify individuals who had leaked information to the media concerning a salary increase for legislators. The request was withdrawn amid vocal public opposition. In one of the year’s most controversial legal cases involving the press, freelance journalist Maria Hayde Chicas was arrested on July 2, along with 13 other individuals, while reporting on a demonstration in Suchitoto against government plans to privatize water distribution in the region. Chicas was charged with committing an “act of terrorism” under El Salvador’s 2006 antiterrorism legislation. Although Chicas was granted a provisional release on July 23, the government did not lift the terrorism charge, which carries a possible sentence of up to 15 years in prison. While defamation remains a criminal offense, the president, government officials, and the media jointly made recommendations to create access to information legislation and to decriminalize libel and defamation as part of the outcome of an Inter American Press Association conference in May.

Although El Salvador is generally a safe place to practice journalism, one journalist was killed in 2007 and others suffered physical attacks related to their work. On September 20, radio journalist Salvador Sanchez Roque was murdered by a group of unidentified gunmen near his home in the municipality of Soyapango, in San Salvador. Sanchez Roque, who had been threatened weeks prior to the killing, had reported on abuses committed by local criminal gangs. A member of the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha was arrested for the journalist’s killing on October 11, while two other suspects remained at large at year’s end. On October 25, three journalists were assaulted during clashes between the police and local residents in Cutumay Comones, Santa Ana, while covering a local rally against the construction of a garbage landfill. In addition, representatives of the San Salvador–based newspaper El Mundo claimed to have received anonymous death threats in the newsroom when the paper published articles on corruption and presidential candidacies.

While there are five daily newspapers, each with an estimated circulation of 250,000, most of the country depends on privately owned television and radio networks for the news. Limited resources prevent many media outlets from producing to their full capacity, and self-censorship is often exercised to avoid offending media owners, editors, and government officials. Threats to economic viability are exacerbated by the government’s refusal to place advertising in outlets viewed as unsympathetic to the administration, including Co Latino, a newspaper run by a cooperative of journalists. There were no reported government restrictions on the internet; however, less than 10 percent of the population was able to access this medium in 2007.