Report to the 71th General Assembly

Charleston, South Carolina

October 2 – 6, 2015

Access to public information has become a serious problem for press freedom in El Salvador during this period.

Members of the police have revealed that they have been under orders since September not to reveal any information on numbers of homicides or details on homicide cases, which have increased at an alarming rate. The Office of the Public Prosecutor does not identify homicide victims or disclose figures; the tally as of August was at 907 homicides.

Journalists from various media outlets have been hindered and threatened with arrest if they cover homicide cases. All of this is taking place in a strained climate in which the president himself, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, and security officials have accused the media of blowing events out of proportion and causing public panic for the sake of reporting.

The country's leading newspapers, La Prensa Gráfica and El Diario de Hoy, have been targeted in cyberattacks through the cloning of their websites and dissemination of fake interviews with their editors. On July 7, La Prensa Gráfica told prosecutors that its website had been cloned from July 8 to July 16 through a site purchased in the United States. On July 8, a link to a fake interview with José Roberto Dutriz, the newspaper's president and editor, appeared in social media.

The link mimics the newspaper's web address (www.laprensagrafica.com) but with an "i" inserted in the middle (www.laprensagriafica.com) to disseminate the ruse, which is written in the form of a news item. The fake site uses the font, links, advertising, and logos of La Prensa Gráfica in an attempt to use false information to create confusion, claiming to defend the newspaper's right to "publish whatever it wants."

This particular attack came about after the newspaper reported on the debate over reforms to institute punishments for cybercrime. Along these lines, the possibility of regulating anonymous accounts on social media (trolls) was considered. The cloning incident also comes after the newspaper ran an investigative series that raised serious ethical questions about the purchase of land in developed areas of greater San Salvador.

The website of El Diario de Hoy, www.elsalvador.com, was also targeted in a cloning attack between December 2014 and January 2015, in the middle of the electoral campaign. Fake content targeting candidates was published with the clear intention of ridiculing El Diario de Hoy.

More recently, a website with fake content was published with the brand name elsalvador.com in a Facebook post that attributed to Fabricio Altamirano, executive director of Grupo Editorial Altamirano, statements that he had never said. This occurred just days after the newspaper had reported on deforestation in the municipality of greater San Salvador to make way for housing developments. Also coming under attack was Paolo Lüers, who was falsely listed as the domain owner for one of the cloned websites, and who was satirized in a fake interview.

The Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre reported that its investigation had led to a Salvadoran programmer who allegedly cloned its site in the same manner as has occurred in El Salvador.

Progovernment organizations, such as the Network for the Right to Communication, are exerting pressure for the Constitutional Court to reverse its ruling that acknowledged the acquired rights of existing television and radio stations and the parameters by which the radio spectrum should be maintained and regulated, as determined by the Telecommunications Act.

With regard to freedom of information, public reports continue to be concealed despite the Law on Access to Public Information. Information on the multimillion-dollar project of the Lempa River Hydroelectric Executive Commission to expand the November 5 Dam is still being kept confidential.

The Institute for Access to Public Information (IAIP) reports that it has received 172 appeals for cases in which government entities have refused to release or have concealed information — most particularly the Defense Ministry, the Legislative Assembly, the Office of the Public Prosecutor, and the Comptroller's Office. Most of these refusals have been unjustified, according to the IAIP.

The IAIP ordered the Comptroller's Office to release to El Diario de Hoy the auditing report on the ill-fated multimillion-dollar El Chaparral dam project, which the Comptroller's Office had refused to release on the grounds that it was "confidential because it was still ongoing."

The attacks on journalists included an incident in which the director of the Maternity Hospital shouted at and removed from the facilities an El Diario de Hoy reporter who was looking into reports of malfunctioning equipment at the hospital. It has also become a systematic practice for officials to send groups of employees or guards to block the entrances to buildings, as occurred at Rosales Hospital.

One year after President Sánchez Cerén took office, government advertising is now being distributed more equitably across media outlets, as opposed to the previous administration's use of advertising as a form of reward or punishment.