During the six months leading up to the presidential elections on March 21, 2004, newspapers and other media outlets in El Salvador have been working under very tense conditions. The constant violent confrontations involving rocks, sticks and other objects used by aggressive-minded activists of the FMLN, a party on the extreme left, have resulted in alarming numbers of injuries and arrests. This had endangered journalists’ personal safety. Under these tense conditions, the news media suffered a major attack in a public square on February 19. Shafick Jorge Handal, the FMLN candidate for president, issued a verbal assault that included threats against freedom of the press. This triggered condemnation and protests in defense of free speech in El Salvador. Handal verbally insulted the reporters and cameramen of Telecorporación Salvadoreña (TCS), the main television network that owns channels 2, 4 and 6. The FMLN candidate, speaking at a rally of war veterans, described the media as “corrupt” and “trash,” and used other pejorative terms to personally attack the Eserski family, which owns TCS, as well as the journalists who work there. This incident was witnessed by several members of the national press. The leftist communist party fanned the flames of this critical situation by issuing a statement warning that members of the “extreme right” might try to injure or murder journalists in order to blame these attacks on the FMLN, according to the statement. The individuals at TCS filed suit with the Attorney General’s Office against Shafick Jorge Handal and the FMLN. Reporters’ organizations, such as the Association of Radio Broadcasters (ASDER), the Association of Advertising Media of El Salvador (AMPS), the Salvadoran Journalists Association (APES) and the IAPA in El Salvador, issued a statement condemning the position of the leftist candidate. In November 2003, Handal had expressed his support for the Declaration of Chapultepec in a political forum with all of the presidential candidates. Another troublesome development was the pressure exerted through the courts on the newspaper El Diario de Hoy by CINTEC International, a Canadian company that processes solid waste for the city of San Salvador. Two CINTEC executives, Matteo Pasquale and Antonio Cinquino, filed a defamation and libel suit in San Salvador against the editor of El Diario de Hoy, Enrique Altamirano Madriz, and its two senior news editors, Laffitte Fernández and Álvaro Cruz Rojas. The lawsuit asks for six million U.S. dollars in damages, and also seeks to have all three defendants barred from practicing journalism and arrested. The lawsuit came in response to a series of articles in El Diario de Hoy that reported on improprieties at CINTEC, the Canadian company, and MIDES, a local company involving 10 jurisdictions of the San Salvador metropolitan area that are under FMLN mayors. The court denied the plaintiffs’ request to have the three journalists arrested, and has scheduled another hearing for March 20, 2004. This case is related to the IAPA’s calls for decriminalizing the offenses of defamation and libel, since the Salvadoran Penal Code currently provides for prison sentences for journalists in such cases. The journalists insist that the information for which they are being sued is duly supported, and for this reason they have refused to settle out of court with the plaintiffs. In addition to the election campaign and lawsuits against freedom of the press, the newspaper La Prensa Gráfica denounced the arbitrary manner in which government agencies handle information. Some members of TSE, the agency that regulates and organizes the elections, hold a veto over the editors of the political section of La Prensa Gráfica. The persistent refusal to provide information is headed by the agency’s director, Sergio Mena Méndez. The current leadership body of the Legislative Assembly maintains the confidentiality of all administrative decisions, such as budget management and allocation and the hiring of personnel. Despite insistence from journalists, the legislative leaders, who are members of the FMLN and PCN parties, have refused to provide the information, which is considered extremely important for the people of El Salvador. Judges, who are currently being questioned by several groups and even by the U.S. State Department, have continued to order that trials be kept secret for no reason, even though criminal law requires judges to explain orders for trial secrecy in writing. Also, La Prensa Gráfica reported that the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Dr. Agustín García Calderón, has refused to grant interviews for over a year.