Report to the Midyear Meeting

Bridgetown, Barbados

April 4 – 7, 2014

The recent presidential elections were preceded by a long campaign of political propaganda that affected news media and press freedom.

In late October 2013 the Supreme Electoral Tribunal ordered off the air three television spots, arguing that the media should be responsible for TV or radio spots or print or digital messages of political parties or other political groups that are put out as part of their political propaganda. The Tribunal wanted to decide and qualify what could and could not be published, that is to say that the media carry out prior censorship, something contrary to the Constitution. The media denied to do so, considering that the political parties are responsible for their own propaganda.

The Tribunal, basing itself on the Electoral Code, brought a series of lawsuits calling on the media for information about contractors of propaganda, with the warning that anyone not complying could be punished with imprisonment. The Tribunal, in a constant manner, sent notices in the last few months of electoral activity calling on the media to provide invoices and contracts.

At the end of the elections there has remained as a task reflection of the Tribunal's limits regarding the media's freedom to contract and so avoid greater abuses in future elections such as a those in March 2015 for mayors and members of Congress.

In February there was a conflict between the Supreme Court and a citizen who filed a petition for information under the Law on Access to Public Information on the dismissal of Supreme Court managers.

The petitioner asked for all information about the dismissals and the reasons behind them. He also asked for all communications between the judges who ordered the dismissals and the dismissed managers, including e-mails. The Supreme Court refused to provide this information, saying that that kind communication violates the security of the institution. The Access to Public Information Institute (IAIP) said that no communication of public officials is private. The request is in process and will go before the Supreme Court's Constitutional Court.

In February the then candidates for the Presidency Norman Quijano of ARENA and Salvador Sánchez Cerén of FMLN pledged to respect freedom of expression on signing the Declaration of Chapultepec.

Also in February President Mauricio Funes opted for the Special Law on the Exercise of the Right to Rectification or Reply, in effect since September last year, asking newspapers to give it space, in response to a request that political advisor JJ Rendón made in Miami.

Each media outlet agreed to provide such space in its own way. There has not been any insistence by the President.

The media has received few petitions under terms of that law and to date there has been no lawsuit filed in the courts.

In the Saturday program "Conversando con el Presidente" (Talking With The President) President Funes attacked and insulted owners, executives, editors, reporters and columnists of El Diario de Hoy. In addition to discrediting that newspaper he often denies it information or at press conferences he questions what that paper's reporters ask.

Two members of the editorial board of El Diario de Hoy, Miguel Lacayo and Salvador Samayoa, have been singled out by the president, who has accused them of being corrupt. In the wake of these accusations, a formal criminal case was opened against Lacayo, and the authorities were on the verge of shutting down his chain of pharmacies and assessing him a fine totaling thousands of dollars.

There has as yet been no resolution of the disclosure of the names and salaries of the 769 Congressional advisors that a journalist formerly called for from the authorities through the Access to Public Information Institute (IAIP). The Speaker of Congress, who refuses to provide information, filed a recourse in the Supreme Court's Administrative Dispute Court and it remains there unanswered.

In February a lower court judge acquitted the two Audit Court trade unionists for lack of evidence and proof of the offenses regarding attacks on journalist Jessica Ávalos in 2011. The Public Prosecutor's Office has appealed the ruling and the case has been sent to a criminal court of the second instance, as it is considered that the crimes against the journalists were indeed committed.