|There have been few violent attacks against the press since the end of
the Salvadoran civil war in 1993, but legal impediments, a lack of resources
and training, and a series of minor incidents impeded Salvadoran journalists'
Although defamation is a criminal offense punishable by up to four years
in prison, the most serious legal issue threatening the Salvadoran press
is the implementation of Article 272 of the penal code, which grants judges
the authority to bar coverage of trials where the moral order, the public
interest, or national security could be affected. In at least three instances
since the law went into effect in April, Salvadoran judges banned coverage
of sensitive trials, including the trial of the men accused of the August
1997 murder of radio newscaster Lorena Saravia.
In February, Salvadoran police announced with great fanfare that they had
arrested 13 people, among them several former police officers, for the murder
of Saravia, who they alleged had been killed on the orders of a jilted lover.
Five men were immediately released because of lack of evidence. Seven months
later, the remaining eight were set free by a judge who ruled that they had
been framed in an internecine police department dispute. While the motive
for Saravia's murder remains unclear, the handling of the investigation has
raised concerns about a possible cover-up.
Although a new generation of young reporters has improved the quality of
journalism, an emphasis on covering breaking news and press releases means
there is little investigative or probing reporting. Because of the possibility
of violent reprisal, certain topics remain off limits, particularly the growing
power of violent drug traffickers. "No one is looking into this," noted one
veteran journalist. "It's just too dangerous."