The media are among the victims of El Salvador’s widespread violence. Since taking office in June 2019, President Nayib Bukele has attacked and threatened journalists critical of his government. Outspoken media outlets are harassed and journalists covering security issues and gangs are criminalised. The use of trolls reinforces the government’s narrative, and state-held information has been kept confidential since the pandemic.
The Salvadoran media landscape is varied. There is a combination of media considered traditional, mostly print (El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Gráfica, El Mundo), news channels and radio stations. There has been an emergence of digital media in recent years, many of which are dedicated to investigative journalism, such as El Faro and FACTum. Using public funds, the executive branch runs the daily newspaper El Salvador, which publishes government propaganda and attacks the opposition. The same is true for the “El Salvador” news programme, broadcast on the public TV channel Canal 10.
In response to constant pressure exerted by the opposition, the government accuses the media outlets that investigate state spending of doing the bidding of the opposition, so as to discredit criticism. President Bukele exerts particularly strong pressure on journalists and uses the extremely dangerous tactic of portraying the media as enemies of the people. A November 2022 Reuters report revealed the existence of a troll farm working for the president. There is also evidence of intimidation schemes, such as sending police to raid the offices of independent media outlets.
In El Salvador, the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, which has not prevented President Bukele from declaring all information about public spending to be confidential since the pandemic. With the Legislative Assembly’s support and against the backdrop of what is called the war on gangs, the government has maintained a state of emergency since March 2022. This limits constitutional guarantees including the confidentiality of private correspondence. The Legislative Assembly has also established prison sentences of 10 to 15 years for those who use the media or information and communication technology to transmit messages that come or supposedly come from criminal groups and that could create panic among the population.
Due to the dominant anti-press rhetoric, journalists face attacks on social media and in some cases threats against their physical safety and equipment. Senior officials have also been responsible for attacks and smear campaigns. Most of the journalists who have been attacked are women.
No journalist has been murdered in El Salvador, but police officers have attacked journalists covering certain events without any legal justification and haven’t faced any sanctions. An investigation into a Citizen Lab report about the use of Pegasus spyware to monitor the phones of journalists and members of civil society organisations has stalled. In 2022, ten journalists (seven men and three women) fled the country.