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El Salvador

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The election as president of Mauricio Funes, a journalist by profession, sparked hopes within civil society of access to information and opening up of the broadcast sector. However, press freedom continues to suffer from a heightened level of insecurity.

The Association of Salvadoran Journalist (APES) has revealed an upsurge in physical assaults against journalists since the start of the year, particularly during the run-up to presidential elections on 15 March 2009 when around a score of journalists were targeted in attacks involving militants of the two main parties, the right-wing Nationalist Republican Alliance (ARENA) and the leftist Farabundo Marti Liberation Front (FMLN). However 35-year prison sentences that were handed down on 12 May 2008 to the three killers of freelance journalist Salvador Sanchez provided evidence of the fight against impunity in a country where the biggest challenge to press freedom comes from its very high levels of violence.

The murder on 2 September of Franco-Spanish documentary filmmaker Christian Poveda revealed the power of the violent "mara" youth gangs that have made Central America one of the world’s most dangerous places. Poveda was one of the very few journalists who went to the grassroots, as he did for 16 months to make a film called "La Vida Loca," which premiered after his death. He was killed by those he made the film about. Four gangsters and a policeman were quickly arrested but the motive for the killing was not clear.

Journalists are still worried by draft reform of the criminal procedure code curbing their right to invoke professional confidentiality if they are witnesses to a crime. Several parliamentary deputies have said the plan could even be dropped as a result of the outcry. The two leading parties however seem to be in agreement on early adoption of a law on the right to information, as well as reform of telecommunications legislation, allowing a fairer distribution of broadcast frequencies.

This parliamentary drive dovetails with a campaign by the new Movement for Democratic Communication, which grew out of civil society, in its manifesto for “Freedom of Expression for a Country”. This call, made in the first quarter of 2009, came just a few weeks ahead of the investiture of the new president, Mauricio Funes, who came from the ranks of the FMLN and was formerly a journalist with the Spanish service of CNN.

Updated in 2009

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