El Salvador

EL SALVADOR There is freedom of the press in El Salvador. However, in modemizing its legislation, limits on freedom of expression have arisen. Some examples are: Political parties were ordered during the run-up to the March elections to restrict paid announcements on radio and television to stipulated timeslots: in the morning, at noon and at night. Article 230 of the electorallaw prohibits publication of opinion polls or other types of popularity surveys within lS days of elections and after that "until the election retums are in." The Penal Code would also impose limitations. Some lawyers would restrict coverage of trials, except when the presiding judge specifically allows it. Such action would severely restrict press freedom. In July, an lAPA mission, led by former president Edward Seaton, visited Enrique Altamirano of El Diario de Hoy, to hear his report on threats and hostilities he said he had received from Joaquín Villalobos, head of the Farabundo Marti party. The mission tried to talk to Villalobos the same day, July 27, but lAPA phone calls to arrange an appointment were not retumed. On August 26, IAPA Press Freedom Committee Chairman Eduardo Ulibarri wrote to Villalobos to express the IAPA's concem at Altamirano's accusations. No reply to the letter has been received. In August, a judge issued a ruling with important implications for free expression. Joaquín Villalobos was accused of damaging the reputation of Orlando de Sola, but the judge, while ruling that no defamation had occurred, left open the possibility that the media reporting on the incident could be sued for libel. The judge's ruling could mean, for example, that reporters would have to approach politicians after rallies and ask them to confirm what they had said and accept responsible for it. A higher court overturned the ruling, however, finding that the judge was out of lineo It said that while criminal defamation had indeed occurred, the media were absolved of any responsibility. In recent months, intemational drug traffickers have used El Salvador as a staging post; at least three huge shipments of cocaine have been intercepted, but there has been practically no coverage of the illict trade, other than of the actual discovery of the shipments. The fragile economy, rampant corruption and few economic and social resources to wage war on the drug traffickers are creating a poor climate for local joumalism to flourish in, leading instead to stagnation and self-censorship. This climate also limits freedom of expression.