El Salvador

Uncertainty continued during this period about a possible tax package that could affect news media operations. While President Mauricio Funes while taking part on March 15 in the annual convention of privately-owned businesses said he had no document that signified a tax package, officials of the Finance Ministry are continuing to discuss increasing taxes. There is also uncertainty in Congress about amendment of the Penal Code to once and for all cease making libel, slander and defamation criminal offenses. In September a ruling by the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Division declaring one of the three subsections of the Penal Code unconstitutional left the door open to possible lawsuits against the media. The El Salvador Congress began by looking into new amendments of Article 121 to exonerate from having to go to prison not only journalists but people in general in the case of libel, slander or defamation. In November work was done on a series of amendments of other, complementary articles to adjust the legislation and for there to be certain flexibility in the case of the press. However, six months after beginning this effort Congress has put the proposals on hold and has not discussed any forward movement. The situation is even worse if one considers that in 11 months’ time new elections for members of Congress and mayors are to be held. Another legal battle for the right to information is continuing following the conviction of La Prensa Gráfica by two juvenile courts for having published the fully identified photo of a youth aged 17-1/2 as he was stabbing a student to death on a public thoroughfare. The convictions were made, according to the judges who heard the case, for having violated the right to privacy of a minor, a situation that the newspaper has objected to, saying that it gave priority to the right to information and its responsibility as a media outlet. La Prensa Gráfica, after receiving rulings against it by a lower court and then by a higher one, filed with the Supreme Court’s Litigation Division an appeal charging that the judges who convicted the newspaper’s publisher had contravened due process. The appeal was admitted. The four justices of the Division are now in the process of compiling the facts and evidence. The case meanwhile remains open. On a positive note, in February Congress adopted the Law on Access to Public Information following several months of debate and comments made by President Funes. This law was sought by civil society and pushed for by news media. It provides for the creation of an institution with a council that will oversee compliance with it and sets a series of requirements that public entities must meet for the delivery of information to be speedy and without obstacles. Deadlines are established for disclosing information and penalties for those who fail to comply with the legislation.