Mass Communications

Mass Communications

By Central American standards, the Salvadoran media enjoyed a moderate freedom of expression and ability to present competing political points of view. They were not as restricted as the media in Nicaragua, but neither were they as diverse, pluralistic, and unrestricted as those of Costa Rica. Although the government did not exercise direct prior censorship, the owners of most publications and some broadcast media outlets exercised a form of self-censorship based either on their personal political conservatism, fear of violent retaliation by right- or left-wing groups, or possible adverse action by the government, such as refusal to renew a broadcast license.

Article 6 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression that does not "subvert the public order, nor injure the morals, honor, or private life of others." This language, taken directly from the 1962 constitution, was rendered meaningless by official and unofficial repression and left-wing terrorist action against the media and its practitioners in the early 1980s. With the post-1982 advent of a freely elected democratic system of government, however, and the accompanying decline in politically motivated violence, the climate under which the press and broadcast media operated began to improve.

This expansion in freedom of expression was not as evident in the print medium as it was in the broadcast media. Most newspapers were owned by conservative business people, and their editorial policies tended to reflect the views of their publishers rather than to adhere to the standards of objectivity normally expected in the North American or West European press. This did not mean, however, that the Salvadoran press was monolithically conservative. The weekly publication of the archdiocese of San Salvador, Orientacion, presented critical analysis of the political scene. Readily available publications emanating from the Central American University presented a generally leftist, antigovernment perspective on events. Small private presses also produced pamphlets, bulletins, and flyers expressing opinions across the political spectrum. The leading daily newspapers in the late 1980s were El Diario de Hoy, with a circulation of approximately 75,000; El Mundo, with approximately 60,000; and La Prensa Grafica, with approximately 100,000, all published in San Salvador.

Freedom of expression in print was best exemplified by the common practice of taking out paid political advertisements, or campos pagados. Most newspapers accepted such advertisements from all sources. Campos pagados were one of the few means of access to the print medium available to leftist groups such as the FMLN-FDR and other like-minded organizations. Campos pagados also were frequently employed by political parties, private sector groups, unions, government agencies, and other groups to express their opinions. The content of the advertisements was unregulated and uncensored. Their cost effectively limited their use to groups and organizations rather than to individuals.

The influence of the press was limited by illiteracy and the concentration of publishing in the capital. Radio did not suffer from these handicaps and consequently was the most widely utilized medium in the country. In 1985 Salvadorans owned an estimated 2 million radio receivers. Although the majority of the seventy-six stations on the air broadcast from San Salvador, the country's small size and the use of repeater stations meant that virtually all of the national territory was within broadcast range. There was only one government-owned radio station. Although the commercial stations tended to emphasize music over news programming, the representation of competing political viewpoints in news segments was becoming a common practice by the mid-1980s. In addition to the ERP's Radio Venceremos, the Farabundo Marti Popular Liberation Forces (Fuerzas Populares de Liberacion Farabundo Marti--FPL) operated a second clandestine station, Radio Farabundo Marti. Both stations served as propaganda organs of the FMLN.

According to many observers, television was the medium where increased political latitude was most evident. Television news crews covered press conferences held by diverse political groups, interviewed opposition politicians such as the FDR's Ungo and Zamora, and investigated allegations of human rights abuses by the military and security forces. Like radio stations, television stations enjoyed virtually complete coverage of the country. Television did not have the market penetration exhibited by radio, however, because of the higher cost of television receivers. A 1985 estimate placed the number of receivers at 350,000. There were six television channels operating in the late 1980s. Of these, two were government-owned educational channels with limited air time. The remaining four were commercial channels.

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