El Salvador

Report to the 74th General Assembly
Oct 19 to 22
Salta, Argentina
New bills and arbitrary provisions by public officials undermined press freedom in this period.

The most serious attack has been the presentation of a bill on Public Entertainment, Cinematography, Media and Advertising that would force the radio and television media to submit their programs and contents to the censorship of a government advisory council – in violation of constitutional principles.

The bill was introduced on October 1 by the Ministry of the Interior and representatives of the official FMLN party. They argued that they seek to "promote a culture of peace" and avoid violence by regulating news, cable and Netflix programming.

"Citizens must stand firm and demand that their representatives respect their freedom to be informed, their freedom to express themselves, and their freedom to decide what they want to watch", said attorney Luis Chávez, of the Salvadoran Association of Broadcasters (ASDER).

Minister Arístides Valencia said that the intention "is to have more regulation on the content that is transmitted on television, cable and radio which may denigrate children, young people, the elderly, women, indigenous populations and the LGBTI community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex)."

The proposal has been questioned by ASDER for violating treaties and agreements signed by the state in the area of freedom of expression.

Although some representatives tried to have the bill shelved, the plenary session of the Assembly sent it to the Legislation Committee for study. Two weeks later it has issued no statement, and there are fears that the bill may be passed – with the aggravating factor that there is no Constitutional Court to turn to for recourse.

The Directorate General of Customs temporarily prevented the entry into the country of a batch from the book "The Child of Hollywood" – that narrates the origins of the Mara Salvatrucha. The book has a photo of a gang member on its cover, and images that reflect the violence in the country. It is written by anthropologist Juan Martínez, and his brother, Oscar Martínez – the editor of the digital newspaper El Faro. The authorities initially denied entry because they considered the content to be "pernicious."

There is a growing trend towards a kind of systematic digital lynching of journalists via social networks – especially in the run-up to the presidential elections.

In a case of intolerance and harassment on social networks, on August 22, Félix Ulloa – vice-presidential candidate for the Great Alliance for National Unity (GANA) party, attacked on social networks Karen Fernández – host of the Focos Tv program on channel 33, after being interviewed.

The politician – Nayib Bukele's running mate, said that the interview had been an "ambush" and that the questions had been "ill-intentioned" – which generated aggressions by users of the social network against the journalist.

Journalists from various media protested the measures imposed on them during the trial of former President Elías Antonio Saca – sentenced to 10 years in prison for various corruption offences.

The journalists were prevented from taking their telephones and tape recorders with them during the trial, and were escorted out of the courtroom on the grounds that "a protected witness was going to testify" – they also did not have access to the transcript of the witness statement.

The criminal trial is public by law, and in protected witness cases screens are used to hide their identity – something that was not done in this case.

In a step forward against impunity, the police captured the alleged killers of Channel 21 cameraman Samuel Rivas.

The communicator was gunned down on November 16, 2017 in the Altavista neighborhood of Ilopango.

The defendants, Alex Eduardo Villalobos and Wilber Ernesto Carranza Cabrera, are active members of the 18 Sureños gang – and are said to have murdered Rivas in order to be promoted as shooters within the gang structure.