El Salvador | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

El Salvador

El Salvador

Freedom of the Press 2009

2009 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

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.

But 2008 was characterized by an electoral year where verbal attacks and intimidations were common. Authorities and opposition candidates were regularly criticizing the media or denying access to interviews.

The FMLN candidate was reported as saying that his “political opponent” is not the party ARENA, now in office, but the media outlets, thus he encourages his followers to assault reporters, according to a report by the Inter American Press Association.

La Prensa Gráfica reported disagreements with the FMLN candidate, who refused to participate in interviews and forums organized by the newspaper.

According to major media associations, the Government did not use direct or indirect means to control the media. However, some television stations complained that advertising agencies responsible for placement of government-funded public service announcements were biased in favor of media companies that generally supported government policy.

The Inter-American Press Association identified problems in several areas, including the absence of a law providing for journalists' right to maintain the confidentiality of sources. In September some news organizations criticized the Government for attempting to require all television and radio stations to broadcast the President's speech and related events celebrating Independence Day. Several organizations refused to broadcast events other than the President's speech; however, the Government took no action against them.

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.

Between June and August, National Civil Police (PNC) delegates threatened two journalists of La Prensa Gráfica in retaliation for investigating the irregularities of the PNC Chief, Francisco Rovira. They were forced to reveal their data collection and not to publish it.

Although El Salvador is generally a safe place to practice journalism, a few journalists were threaten or attacked.

William Chamagua, owner of the San Salvador-based Radio Mi Gente and host of the political news show “Hablando con Mi Gente” (Talking to My People), received a call on his cell phone January 7 from an unidentified woman threatening him with death. During the weeks that followed, several calls were placed to the radio station and to Chamagua’s house in El Salvador threatening his employees and family, the journalist told CPJ. Chamagua said he believed the threats were linked to the station’s critical reporting on the Salvadoran government.“

On 17 September, Allan Martell, a producer and reporter with Radio Bálsamo in Zaragoza, in the western department of La Libertad, was assaulted and threatened by local officals while making a documentary about water distribution problems.

While journalists did not reported attacks by the local gangs as it has happened before, several press freedom advocates say that self-censorship is a common practice among journalists who avoid reporting on gang activities or drug trafficking. On 12 May 2008, a San Salvador court convicted three youths - José Alfredo Hernández, José Luis Martínez Mejía and Héctor Adalberto Ortiz Mejía, all of whom are members of criminal street gangs - of aggravated homicide in the killing of journalist Salvador Sánchez Roque in September 2007.

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. There are approximately 20 small cable television companies across the country, serving limited local areas. While most of them appear to be authorized broadcasters, several are believed to be pirating signals. Approximately 150 licensed radio stations broadcast on the FM and AM bands. 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. There were no reported government restrictions on the internet; however, less than 11 percent of the population was able to access this medium in 2008.