El Faro: Bukele threatens journalism

El Faro has published an editorial regarding president Bukele’s confrontation with independent and critical media.

El Salvador celebrates the day of the journalist on August 31st.


Since rising to power, Bukele has created an alternate reality where he is the sole defender of the people against those he calls “the same as usual”, a category that includes anyone who expresses criticism or doesn’t fulfill his wishes. He has even accused the deputies of looking for a genocide – yes, genocide – for not approving his decrees.

In recent months, in the face of constant reports of corruption, ignorance of the principles of democracy and transgression of state institutions, the president and his power group have begun to use all the resources at their disposal to impose their narrative. And as part of his strategy, in a further attack on the pillars of Democracy, Bukele has declared journalism his enemy.

Attacks on the media and journalists are on the rise, as disinformation platforms multiply in the country and huge sums of money are invested to disseminate official propaganda on social networks and the Internet, while nobody takes responsibility for its content and there is no trace of the funds with which they are financed.

This process started even before June 1, 2019 with expressions of contempt for journalism and the media in general, but it had its first formal act when the Presidency censored journalists from El Faro and Factum in September 2019, when the press secretary banned them from entering Bukele press conferences.

A chain reaction followed: El Diario de Hoy brought the matter to its front page and its director reported the incidents to the Inter-American Press Association. In response, Bukele withdrew all government advertising and suspended printing contracts with that newspaper. It was clear then that the president was ready to use all the government institutions against dissident voices.

Since then, the blocking of information to certain media, including El Faro, has been the norm.

Officials of this government deny interviews or basic information to any newspaper or television channel that, as journalism should always do, questions the official version, while the main ministers parade every morning through the comfortable sets of the three channels that concentrate most of the Government’s advertising schedule.


Widespread attack on the press


Until last month, the Association of Journalists of El Salvador registered 61 direct attacks on the press since Bukele assumed power; more than twenty so far in a pandemic.

As it had already happened with Factum in the first months of this government, on Tuesday, July 21, the server of the magazine Gato Encerrado received a cyber attack that threw out its publication for more than six hours.

A journalist from that newspaper, Julia Gavarrete, suffered a burglary at her home in early July while she was covering an event at the Presidential House. The only item stolen was her computer.

This theft is not an isolated event. On July 13, through an intelligence operation that included several people, a man entered the apartment of Óscar Luna, editor of Disruptiva magazine, directed by the academic Óscar Picardo, whose mathematical projections of covid-19 infections have provoked Bukele’s fury in recent weeks. The thief entered his home around midnight, while Luna and his family slept, and extracted two computers and a map of San José Villanueva, the municipality in which Picardo conducts a covid-19 infection monitoring experiment.

Several journalists from various media have also denounced being followed, harassment by the press staff of the Presidency, and smear campaigns against them that have led to threats. Among them are the repeated attacks on journalist Karen Fernández, of the Focos program, on Channel 33, instigated, among others, by former ARENA leader Walter Araujo, now a Nuevas Ideas’ candidate for congress. The president has even launched a campaign against the UCA, due to the opinions expressed in its media.

The government’s attacks on the press in El Salvador are so alarming that, in the midst of a pandemic, they have deserved the observations and condemnations of various Human Rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression from the OAS, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, CEJIL, the Due Process Foundation and the Knight Center for the Americas.

The reason is found in the pages of the newspapers that Bukele attacks: despite the fact that the government closed access to public information during lockdown and denied journalists information, public documentation, contracts and access to public facilities, these outlets have documented million-dollar contracts awarded during the emergency to companies linked to public officials. Given the evidence of corruption, the President has decided to attack those who detect and document it, and not the offenders.

In his march towards the dismantling of democratic institutions, Bukele has encountered an obstacle in journalism and intends to silence it by any means: fiscal, judicial, technological, media or political. It is another setback in the serious process of institutional and democratic decline that this administration has undertaken since coming to power.

El Faro reaffirms its decision to respond to these attacks with more and better journalism. In 22 years of experience we have questioned and investigated each government on duty and maintained our commitment to democracy through professional journalistic practice. Democracy does not work without critical journalism. Nor without critical citizens, regardless of who holds power.

We call on national and international colleagues, and organizations defending human rights, freedom of speech and defense of democracy, to take note of the threats against press freedom in El Salvador and the rapid deterioration of the conditions for the proper exercise of journalism in the country.



(You can read the rest in Spanish here)

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