El Salvador

EL SALVADOR As the result of an IAPA mission to promote the Declaration of Chapultepec, the president of El Salvador accepted an initiative for the formation of a special commission to revise those laws that are a potential threat to freedom of expression. After meeting with the IAPA, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Dr. Agustín García Calderón promised that all decisions would be on the public record. The Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures leave it up to the subjective discretion of judges to keep certain decisions secret. They also allow the police (according to Article 243) to keep secret the identity of people arrested for various crimes. Article 272, for example, says, “criminal trials shall be public but the judge may order, with stated, well-founded reasoning, partial or total closure of a hearing when ethics, public interest or national security require it.” There have been some isolated incidents and reports affecting press freedom. Several media outlets that oppose the ruling party have reported discrimination in the placement of official advertising. After a series of articles in El Diario de Hoy about excessive costs for remodeling the offices of political factions, foreign travel and congressmen’s meals, the leadership of the Legislative Assembly ordered the staff and the deputies themselves not to speak to journalists about the assembly’s internal affairs. The measure was rejected by various political groups and denounced as a “gag order” by the media. The leadership later revoked the order. A photographer for the newspaper El Mundo was injured by a rubber bullet when a demonstration by Social Security union members was being broken up in April. Judicial authorities played down the seriousness of the offense. Restrictions on journalists in the president’s office continue, in line with the practice of controlling access to the president. These include regulating the number of questions each media outlet may put and the president’s insistence on making statements only on one day a week. After a series of articles in El Diario de Hoy saying that Telecom, a private company in which the government is a substantial stockholder, was facilitating telephone tapping, the newspaper lost almost 80 per cent of its advertising from the company. It was the third most important advertiser in the newspaper. The articles said that a B9 code, which according to official telephone documents indicates tapping, was found on telephone numbers of the editor in chief’s residence, a number in the newsroom and the private number of Jorge Zedán, owner of television Canal 12. The same code was found on more than 200 telephone numbers of various public figures and institutions, such as an organization of homosexuals, and businessmen. Telecom, in addition to withdrawing its advertising, denied that it had listened to any telephone calls and indicated that code B9 is a technical way to reroute calls when the system is congested.