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El Salvador18 February 2005

Outcry over firing of TV news director and presenter Mauricio Funes

21.02.2005 The decision by Salvadorean TV station Canal 12 to fire news director and presenter Mauricio Funes and seven other journalists continues to elicit criticism from many quarters, including President Antonio Saca.

"As someone who supports free expression, I regret that his programme has been stopped," said President Saca, a former sports journalist and radio producer, on 19 February, while stressing that he could not "meddle in company decisions as President of the Republic."

Herminia Funes, the president of the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), said on 20 February: "We have insisted that forums offering diverse news and information should not be closed, because the closure of these spaces is a harsh blow to free expression in this country."

Human rights ombudsman Beatrice Alamanni voiced her "concern" on 19 February about "events likely to obstruct the right to freedom of expression and undermine the practice of independent journalism."

Accompanied by demonstrators, San Salvador archbishop Fernando Saez warned on 20 February that "peace will not be attained by silencing the voice of the people."

The TV station Canal 12 cut short Mauricio Funes’s interview programme, La Entrevista al Día, as it was being broadcast live on 16 February, a day after several of Funes’s fellow workers were fired. Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the decision of the privately-owned TV station Canal 12 to cut short Mauricio Funes’s interview programme, La Entrevista al Día, as it was being broadcast live on 16 February, and about the dismissals of several of Funes’s fellow workers the previous day.

"This is not the first time that Mauricio Funes has had one of his programmes suspended, so the series of sanctions applied to members of his team is worrying," the press freedom organization said. "If it is established that these decisions were politically motivated, they will constitute a serious press freedom violation."

The Canal 12 management pulled the plug on Funes’s programme just after it began, as he was complaining on the air about the difficulties his team was encountering in its work.

Five of his most important fellow-workers - including the news programme’s chief producer, the press attached, the person in charge of interviews and the researcher - had been fired the day before. Two other staff members working on another programme were also dismissed.

The daily newspaper Probidad said Funes was unable to get any explanation for the dismissals. The managing director reportedly just told him the decision came from AZTECA, the Mexican company that owns the San Salvador-based TV station.

Sin Censura, another programme presented by Funes, was censored and taken off the air in May 2003 by the management of Canal 12 (which used to be called TV 12). Journalist Kristin Neubauer said this occurred after Funes was scathing about the government’s poor handling of relief operations after the January 2003 earthquake.

Funes is known for presenting programmes in which guests are invited to discuss the country’s current affairs in a very outspoken manner.


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