El Salvador: President supports bill decriminalising libel

Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes has shown his support for a reform bill to decriminalise defamation, but only if certain changes are implemented. Funes, an ex-journalist, has largely supported the decree to substitute the penalty of imprisonment for crimes against public image and privacy, with monetary fines. But the reform, which was approved by the legislative assembly on 8 September, also suggests suspending journalists for up to two years, should they be found guilty of a crime against someone’s honour, and the president has suggested that this condition be removed.

El Salvador: 11 jailed for filmmaker’s murder

A court in El Salvador has convicted 11 people for the 2009 murder of French journalist and filmmaker Christian Poveda. Two gang leaders were sentenced to 30 years in prison. Two other leaders have been jailed for 20 years, whilst the remaining seven face four years in prison. Poveda had made a film about street gang violence in El Salvador. The length of the trial caused consternation in certain quarters, with two days deemed insufficient to reach such a verdict.

Latin America: media reforms spark debate

This is a guest post by Ángel García Català

On 14 December, the first national Brazilian congress on communication and media will be held in the country’s capital. The four day conference in Brasilia will discuss, amongst other things, the need for a new media law. The Workers’ Party (PT) is trying to amend the current legislation, which they consider to be “anachronistic and authoritarian” primarily because they believe it favours the interest of business over the interests of the wider population. Brazilian president President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has shown that he favours the reform, stating that “the more television there is, the more journalism and cultural programmes that appear, the more political debates ensue and the stronger the democratisation of communication will become”.

Brazil is following a process that has already been initiated by other countries in the region. El Salvador has also started discussions on media law whilst the parliament of Ecuador will begin the approval process of its own law on the 10 December. Other countries like Uruguay and Argentina have already adopted reforms.

Opinions on these laws and their suitability are polarised. Take the various reactions to the law adopted by the Argentinian Senate, for example. Some see this type of reform as a clear attack on freedom of expression, while others applaud it as a mechanism for strengthening democracy.

The new law in Argentina, which replaces the broadcasting law passed in 1980 during the military dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla, provides that the same company cannot own more than 10 audiovisual licences. Those who are currently exceeding that number will be forced to sell the rest. One of the businesses most affected by this measure is the Clarín group, which has 264 licences and whose profits last year stood at around US $500 million.

The Spanish companies Telefonica and Grupo Prisa (which publishes El País) are also greatly affected. No wonder then, that these companies are among the biggest opponents to reform. Ricardo Roa, assistant general editor of the newspaper Clarín believes that “the law promotes a press weaker and docile toward political power”. Associations like the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) have also rejected the new law outright, saying that such reforms are an “enslavement to freedom of expression while promoting the creation and acquisition of media by the state and groups close to power.”

In contrast, the Argentinian reforms have the full support of Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, who considers it as one of the most advanced reforms in the world, as well as seeing it as “an example to others countries [to] ensure access for all social sectors to the media”. Reporters Sans Frontieres has also endorsed the reform, calling it a “brave and necessary law, despite pressure from some pretty selfish press groups”.

El Salvador: suspects arrested in Poveda murder probe

On 10 September four men suspected of killing Franco-Spanish journalist Christian Poveda in El Salvador were arrested. One of suspects is a police officer. The other three are members of Mara 18, a street gang that Poveda filmed for this 2008 documentary La Vida Loca. According to police, the journalist’s murder was ordered by a jailed member of the gang who believed him to be a police informant.
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