El Salvador’s media continued to be polarized, and journalists suffered from violent attacks and a lack of access to public information.
The tragic January and February earthquakes that left 1 million Salvadorans homeless revealed the vast rift that remained between leftist partisans and conservative groups 10 years after the end of a long and brutal civil war.
TV DOCE, a television station founded in 1984 and recognized as one of the few independent voices during the brutal conflict, was widely criticized for its coverage of the relief effort.
In a January 19 editorial, the conservative, pro-government daily El Diario de Hoy accused TV DOCE of fabricating “pathetic scenes” with victims that scared away foreign aid.
Only days before, TV DOCE had begun airing a daily program intended to give earthquake victims the opportunity to contact their relatives. Viewers began calling to denounce the government for handling the disaster poorly.
By all accounts, the government reacted by imposing an advertising boycott. Private advertisers apparently reduced their ad buys as well.
As a result, the station was forced to slash its operations. TV DOCE news director Mauricio Funes told CPJ that the station’s news program, which used to air daily, is now only broadcast during the week. Jobs were cut and salaries were lowered. However, TV DOCE began to recover because the station gathered support from some organizations and local governments, according to Funes.
Official reticence toward releasing government information continued to impede journalists’ work in 2001. Judges consistently used Article 272 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which allows them to bar reporters from courthouse proceedings to protect morality, public interest, or national security. According to the local press organization Asociación de Periodistas de El Salvador (APES), the judiciary restricted access to 11 proceedings in 2001.
APES, whose 1998 proposals for legal reform were not seriously considered, presented them again in 2001, along with another proposal. APES proposed that the Legislative Assembly repeal Article 324 of the Penal Code, which imposes six months’ to three years’ imprisonment for government officials who release information “that should remain secret.” The law does not specify when the “secrecy” rule applies. Article 324 was thrust in the limelight on August 28, when Attorney General Belisario Artiga published a communiqué chastising an anonymous official who leaked the results of an investigation into several officials to El Diario de Hoy.
The attorney general called on the anonymous official to resign. After several protests, Artiga acknowledged that the government had an obligation to create guidelines for the release of official documents. But by year’s end, no action had been taken.
APES and a nongovernmental organization called Probidad reported numerous incidents where judges, police officers, and others physically or verbally attacked reporters. Both organizations reported on the September 13 attack on a Canal 4 cameraman and a La Prensa Gráfica photographer. The journalists were covering a court hearing of a judge accused of practicing without a license when individuals said to be the judge’s bodyguards assaulted them. In another case, police officers attacked two El Diario de Hoy reporters during a carnival celebration. One officer hit one of the journalists with a stick, and another tried to confiscate the other journalist’s film, the organizations reported.