Freedom of the Press 2017 - El Salvador

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
PFS Score: 
Political Environment: 
Economic Environment: 

Key Developments in 2016:

  • Community radio director Nicolás Humberto García, who had been threatened for his station’s programming on violence prevention, was killed in March, though it remained unclear whether his murder was in reprisal for his work.
  • In May, the Legislative Assembly approved changes to the 1997 Telecommunications Law that allowed for the legal recognition and licensing of community radio stations.
  • In October, the Inter American Press Association criticized the administration of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén for a pattern of withholding information from journalists and for attempting to discredit the Supreme Court, which had upheld information requests.

Executive Summary

El Salvador’s constitution protects press freedom, and a number of media outlets engage in critical coverage of the government and opposition parties. However, the government has increasingly taken antagonistic stances toward the media, and journalists’ work is further impeded by organized crime and general insecurity.

Imprisonment for slander, libel, and defamation was abolished in 2011, but such offenses are still adjudicated under the penal code, which prescribes fines and professional suspensions. Journalists can also be sued for defamation in civil courts. In April 2016, businessman Enrique Rais filed a criminal defamation case against the codirector of the magazine Factum, Héctor Silva Ávalos, seeking $500,000 in damages over an article that accused Rais of bribery. A trial was pending at year’s end.

The administration of President Sánchez Cerén, who took office in 2014, has often failed provide government data under the 2011 Access to Public Information Law. Appeals of denied information requests have increased dramatically since they were first allowed in 2013, and officials are known to deny reporting access to private outlets that have been critical of the government. The president regularly refuses to answer questions from journalists, and in July a journalists’ association denounced the Legislative Assembly for barring photographers and camera operators from certain legislative sessions.

In May, the Legislative Assembly approved reforms to the outdated 1997 Telecommunications Law that had been mandated by the Supreme Court. Among other provisions, the changes ended the automatic renewal of broadcast licenses and established mechanisms for obtaining a license other than public auctions, which had catered to commercial outlets and effectively excluded the nonprofit community radio sector.

Journalists and media outlets continued to face intimidation and violence during the year, including pressure from politicians and threats from security forces while reporting at crime or accident scenes. The March murder of Nicolás Humberto García, director of the community radio station Expressa in Ahuachapán, was apparently linked to criminal gangs. Colleagues said García had been threatened for reporting on youth violence prevention.

The newspapers La Prensa Gráfica and Diario de Hoy have suffered cyberattacks allegedly carried out by associates of San Salvador’s mayor, Nayib Bukele. With the suspects facing trial during 2016, Bukele and allied politicians denounced the two papers and called on the public to boycott them. A journalist with La Prensa Gráfica reported receiving threats via social media in November.



Explanatory Note

This country report has been abridged for Freedom of the Press 2017. For background information on press freedom in El Salvador, see Freedom of the Press 2016.