El Salvador

EL SALVADOR Since taking office on June 9, President Francisco Flores, has repeatedly said it is his intention of have an open door policy for journalists. But, in fact, the new government does not seem to have changed the obstinate attitude toward journalists that characterized sorne ministries in the administration of former president Armando Calderón Sol, who, at least, spoke to reporters more often. The lack of access is considered part of President Flores' new style. Flores and his new cabinet rarely meet with journalists, and then only after imposing strict conditions, including a requirement that they give advance notice of questions to be asked the president. The president's security staff often hold on to cameras and tape recorders during meetings between journalists and the president, and he almost always insists of speaking off the record. The appointment of a press secretary for the president and the hiring of many public relations assistants has not so far increased the flow of information. With two or three exceptions, access to cabinet ministers has been difficult for journalists, who consider these attitudes a serious impediment to their work. In addition, the new Criminal Code and Code of Criminal Procedures retain regulations denying journalists access to certain judicial proceedings. The main argument for these regulations is based on "presumption of innocence" of the accused. These decisions and the new attitudes of judicial officials reflect people who have inspired the adoption of new judicial codes in El Salvador. The new codes leave it to the discretion of judges to hold closed hearings and allow police to keep the identity of people detained for certain crimes secreto For example, Art. 272 says: "Criminal proceedings shall be public, but the judge may, on substantiated grounds, order a hearing to be closed in ful! or in part, when morality, the public interest or national security so require." The problem is that the public interest makes it necessary to provide information and should not be considered a limitation, as the law states. Art. 243 prohibits the police from presenting detained people to journalists because it "affects their good name and violates their right to due process." This prevents the public and the victims from recognizing the suspects and denies the suspects the possibility of reporting abuses that may have been committed against them. Experience shows that public display of a prisoner is the best guarantee that his rights - or, in extreme cases, his physical safety - are respected. On the other hand, the new code says that only the prosecutors and the defense attorneys will have access to the initial proceedings. Journalists will only have access in the final stage, the public trial, which deprives citizens of the right to know whether "justice had been done." So far the death of the radio announcer Lorena Saravia under unusual circumstances has not been solved. The investigation has been going on for more than ayear without progress in determining the identity of the murderers.