In the wake of El Salvador’s tight March 9th Presidential elections, the country’s national commercial media, always notoriously conservative, have become active agents in spreading confusion and misinformation generated by the ARENA party in its quest to undermine El Salvador’s democratic institutions. The media’s complicity in ARENA’s campaign to contest the election results and generate political instability have drawn sharp criticism from across Salvadoran civil and political society.
On Wednesday, March 12, the prestigious Jesuit Central American University (UCA) published a statement calling on “the diverse organizations, guilds, ‘think tanks’ and communications media to not promote or support messages that contradict respect for democratic institutions. To acritically transmit or silently accept the current position and activities of ARENA’s leadership is a means of contributing to an environment of instability and disrespect to institutionality, which they claim to defend.”
In one egregious but demonstrative example, the day after the TSE formally declared Salvador Sánchez Cerén president-elect of El Salvador, the national Diario de Hoy newspaper’s front page [see photo] declared: “Bishops: nation calls for dialogue between political forces – Catholic Church hierarchy asks that the new government, of whichever party it may be, promote dialogue and consensus building” and boasted a large photograph of what it titled “Repression in Venezuela,” with a smaller headline merely noting that the “Electoral Tribunal dismisses nullifying the elections, gives the win to the FMLN ticket but gives 48 hours to appeal.” Also on the same front page, in red letters, “MS [Mara Salvatrucha street gang] receives combat training.”
This Saturday, in his weekly televised radio show, President Mauricio Funes condemned the nation’s media for refusing to report on the positive findings of the Organization of American States (OAS) and United Nations (UN) international electoral observation missions who, contrary to ARENA’s cries of fraud, have applauded the country’s institutions for a free and transparent electoral process. He said these respected international authorities have been forced to take out paid ads in national newspapers to get their message out.
Leonel Herrera, Executive Director of the Association of Radios and Participatory Programs (ARPAS), stated that the ARENA party leadership had no illusions of changing the March 9th electoral outcome, but that rather, “with the help of the mass media, ARENA seeks to generate confusion, to position the false idea that there was fraud, to destabilize the country and sabotage the new government with the objective of carrying on this campaign on until the 2015 legislative elections in order to recuperate the key 2/3 majority.”