16 October 2014
A new time has started in our country. On June 1st Salvador Sánchez Cerén from the FMLN took office and the situation of freedom of the press is already tense. One of the main problems recorded with mass media is a situation occurred with an issue of allocation of frequencies for TV stations, which started in April and still persists. In April, the General Superintendence of Electricity and Telecommunications (SIGET), government entity charged with regulating and assigning frequencies to TV stations, granted a privileged position to a TV channel purchased by a foreign businessman; the TV channel was at a frequency with lower capture of public and did not meet the established rules. The Mexican businessman Ángel González, through its company TV RED purchased in El Salvador channel 37 on UHF system and SIGET assigned it without further explanation to channel 11 on VHF. This triggered a legal battle on the part of local TV channels that complain about the discretionary nature of the assignment that disregards the established laws. They have said they are against unfair competition. Local TV channels (Telecorporación Salvadoreña (TCS) with its channels 2, 4 and 6; Megavisión with channels 19 and 21, and channel 12; channel 8 is a non-profit channel and channel 10 is government-owned), claimed before the Board of Directors of SIGET, the return of channel 37 to 11. The Superintendent of the government in office had denied returning channel 11 to channel 37, but the Board of Directors ruled in favor of the TV channels. Meanwhile, the company TV RED filed an appeal for review of such SIGET Board’s decision with the Administrative Litigation Division of the Supreme Court of Justice. The Superintendent disregarded the complaints to have her comply with the ruling and let time pass by until such Administrative Litigation Division issued a precautionary measure in favor of Channel 11 to continue broadcasting until the end of the case. The process may take years. Local TV channels have denounced the arbitrary actions recorded in this process of preferred assignment of frequencies to a TV channel, and the businessman is suspected to have undue links with government authorities, just as what happens in other countries. FMLN and its allied parties approved a new money laundering and asset cloaking law, and decided to include mass media: as a result of the enforcement of this law, mass media companies would be subject to regulation, control and intervention. After a series of protests and debates, new amendments were introduced and in August mass media was left outside the specific control of the law. The control required the presence of a money laundering officer who on behalf of the government would audit the financial operations of the mass media, giving him attributions to intervene and to request any type of information. The government maintains an attitude of administrative harassment against mass media. It is using regulatory or oversight mechanisms from the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of the Environment or financial-tax or commercial entities to request any type of business information from the media. The newspaper La Prensa Gráfica has been visited more than 30 times by government representatives over the last few years. Two weeks ago a new case of censorship was recorded. The General Directorate of the National Civil Police (PNC) drafted a handbook on how to handle information, where it restricts media access to public security issues. The purpose is to control, restrict the data; it has even blocked the presence of officers on social networks. So far, the authorities neither have given explanations or answers nor have they issued a change order to allow access to public information. On July 12th we regretted the death of Carlos José Orellana, 23 year old cameraman of channel 99, TV channel of the department of Usulután, and former collaborator of radio Café from the same zone. He was attacked by two individuals with a cutting blade close to where he lived in Santiago de María. The investigations are still under way and we do not discard he has been killed due to professional reasons. In July, journalist Oscar Martínez of El Faro digital newspaper was coerced in a false police operative on a highway located in the Western part of the country. He was being interviewed at a police checkpoint about the duties he had performed in a town located on the western side of the country. The agents asked him several questions and told him they had assembled the operative against him. He was interrogated and retained for several minutes without any further legal explanation. The top Public Security authority, Minister Benito Lara committed to investigate the facts and despite the petitions from several institutions, including IATA, no answers have been given. In June, the case of journalist Jessica Ávalos was finally taken to court. Ms. Ávalos was attacked and threatened by two union members, one of which was condemned. The case regarding a request for information on 769 advisors in Congress is still pending resolution at the Administrative Litigation Division of the Supreme Court of Justice. This has become the instance where the requests for access to information can sleep for ever.