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El Salvador

Area: 21,040 sq. km.
Population: 6,400,000
Language: Spanish
Type of state: republic
Head of state: President Francisco Flores Pérez


El Salvador - 2003 Annual Report

The press freedom situation was generally satisfactory but two bills were presented to parliament in the space of two months which threatened the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and openness in public life.

Press freedom was violated several times in 2002, notably by a police attack on 15 journalists during a strongarm arrest of a member of parliament in February. The police chief and President Francisco Flores both apologised at once, but the enquiry into the incident resulted in no punishment of the policemen involved.
Two bills threatening press freedom were presented to parliament in August and September. The first, on defence matters, challenged the confidentiality of sources, but after national and international protests, President Flores said "gathering news must never open the door to abuses of power against the media." The second bill could seriously weaken the countervailing power of the state auditing board by keeping its reports secret.
Several journalists complained during the year that government officials had refused to answer questions about matters of general interest. Some media also said the authorities were not giving them a fair share of government advertising. The government denied any favouritism and said ads were placed according to the size of each media outlet’s audience.

19 journalists attacked
Fifteen journalists working for nine media outlets were beaten, threatened or had their equipment damaged by police while covering the 13 February 2002 arrest of Orlando Arévalo, a parliamentary deputy of the centre-right National Reconciliation Party (PCN). President Flores apologised to the journalists and ordered an enquiry.
Erick Álvarez, of the TV station Teledos, and his cameraman Carlos Durán were beaten and threatened by apparent students during traditional May Day demonstrations. Alex Pineda and cameraman Alonso Oviedo, both of Teledos, were also attacked when they asked Schafick Handal, leader of the left-wing Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN) about whether he was responsible for the incidents.

Pressure and obstruction
Parliament adopted a national defence law on 15 August 2002 whose article 25 said that "private individuals" including journalists were "obliged to provide information required by the authorities for defence reasons." On 27 August, President Flores said the law had to be changed so it did not force journalists to reveal their sources. The amended law was passed on 12 September.
On 26 September, parliament adopted a law making the state auditing board’s reports secret if the responsibility of officials criticised in them was not clearly established. On 16 October, President Flores send an amended version to parliament, leaving to the board itself the decision whether or not to publish findings about major irregularities.



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see also
2003 Africa Annual Report
2003 Asia Annual Report
2003 Europe Annual Report
2003 North Africa and the Middle East Annual Report