El Salvador

Report to the 76 IAPA General Assembly
October 21-23, 2020

In this period, Nayib Bukele's government has been characterized by frontal attacks and attempts to stigmatize and corner the independent media - with actions such as fiscal harassment against El Faro, the attempt to discredit other media, linking them to political parties, and disparaging journalists who question him for the growing corruption, nepotism, and arbitrariness.

Since his taking office, Bukele has been hostile to the independent media in his press conferences, messages in social networks, interviews, and on national TV networks - and he discriminates against the media in official guidelines. The government attacks journalists and individuals with a wide-ranging network of trolls.

The government also attacks the Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Legislative Assembly.

The digital newspaper El Faro has faced harassment from Ministry of Finance inspectors - who have even tried to change the editorial rules. The audits looking for alleged tax irregularities began soon after El Faro published that the Bukele government negotiates with the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang to reduce the number of homicides - in order to favor his New Ideas party in the elections. El Faro has denounced that its journalists have experienced wiretapping during their investigations.

On September 24, Bukele attacked El Faro and the newspapers Co-latino, El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Gráfica and El Mundo - showing their front pages and linking them to political parties.

He also discredited several journalists and digital media by accusing them of receiving funding from the George Soros Foundation and the Open Society Foundation, an argument he used to also discredit six U.S. Congressmen who sent him a letter about "a slow but steady decline in the rule of law and democratic norms which our hemisphere has fought so hard to preserve" - referring to the militarization of the Legislative Assembly and the negotiations between officials and gang members.

In mid-September, twelve other U.S. congressmen sent him a letter expressing concern "about his government's growing hostility to independent and investigative media in El Salvador."

The Telecommunications Law establishes, in Article 127, that the President has the right to summon radio and television stations for reasons of calamity, war or national interest - but not to attack the media or any other sector.

The Association of Journalists of El Salvador - in a statement supported by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) - resumes this incident as follows: "In the broadcast, President Bukele attacked the newspapers La Prensa Gráfica, El Diario de Hoy, El Mundo and Co-Latino, and the digital media El Faro, Revista Factum and Revista Gato Encerrado. He also announced that the Ministry of Finance has started an investigation for alleged money laundering against El Faro. On the other hand, he pointed out the website La Página, currently managed by the National Council of Administration and Assets (CONAB) - an agency largely controlled by the Executive - as an example of good journalism."

Through his social networks, Bukele himself has not hesitated to attack independent journalists and the APES: "These people are untouchable. They cannot be criticized, nor questioned, they have not been elected by anyone, but they have jurisdiction. They can criticize, attack, accuse, slander, and be paid (among others things) for doing so. They want freedom of expression to be just for them."

The APES registered 98 aggressions against journalists in 2020, which include blocking of officials' accounts in social networks and the forced deletion of photos and information from their devices by agents of the Police and the Armed Forces. Likewise, some judges continue - arbitrarily - to prevent journalists from attending hearings which, by law, are public.

In light of the increasing attacks and threats against independent media and journalists, the Legislative Assembly appointed a special commission to investigate government harassment and abuses.

Not only independent media reporters are targeted for attacks and reprisals, but also their families who are harassed or fired from their jobs in state agencies.

Journalists Eugenia Velásquez and Jorge Beltrán Luna were attacked and threatened on social networks by former government officials. Lawyers Marcela Galeas and Erika Saldaña, columnists for El Diario de Hoy, have also faced hostility and verbal violence from government officials.

Two journalists - one associated with the Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas (UCA) and the other with the magazine Disruptiva, of the Universidad Francisco Gavidia (UFG) - had their computers stolen from their homes.

The officials have adopted the practice of denying their positions after interviews with journalists; once the information is published, they claim the right to rectify or respond - not because of errors or inaccuracies, but because of differences of thought.

The withdrawal of government advertising as punishment to independent media continues, as it has happened for more than a year with El Diario de Hoy, and since February with Channel 33 - affiliated with the Universidad Tecnológica.

The Association of Participatory Radios (ARPAS) requested transparency from the government regarding the negotiation of the National Charity Lottery with Israeli businessmen. The press denounced that the government denies access to information about EL Salvador Hospital - built to handle cases of Covid-19.

For its propaganda, the government is using private resources that have been frozen by authorities and handed over to the National Council for the Administration of Assets (CONAB) - the state entity that oversees forfeiture proceedings.

The Bukele government has launched a pro-government television news program to spread government propaganda disguised as news. Serafín Valencia, APES reporter for Freedom of Expression, said that to create the new program channel 10 fired around 80 journalists and workers - from the channel and from Radio Nacional - at the end of last year.

Bukele also announced the launch of another official newspaper - Diario de El Salvador, in both digital and print versions. Bukele promised that it will be the newspaper with the largest circulation in the country - and at half the price of private newspapers. He argued that this company will be state-owned, generate jobs and pay taxes. However, journalistic entities claim that it will not be a public newspaper - with the standards for that type of media - but that it will serve to spread government propaganda.

In one of the latest attempts to intervene in one of the institutions that guarantee access to state information and the fight against corruption, the government appointed a former official as a "representative of journalists" in the Institute of Access to Public Information (IAIP).

This was the result of a process - described as flawed - in which APES was excluded, and three groups were elected with the participation of only two associations - when the law demands that there must be three. It was denounced that the appointed head and deputy head are linked to the regime. A similar move took place in January, when they appointed the head of Communications of the Ministry of the Interior - who later had to resign.

Bukele made modifications to the regulations of the IAIP in order to grant more power to the president of the agency and - among other things - make it more difficult for citizens to access information. All these facts were denounced to the Supreme Court of Justice.

The anthropologist Juan Martínez D'Aubuisson, columnist for El Faro and Revista Factum, denounced that in mid-October he was the victim of an assault and that sources from the security apparatus warned him that it was an "act of intimidation" by the Bukele regime. .