El Salvador Bans 2 Investigative Outlets from Press Conferences

…at the presidential residence

President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele speaks during a ceremony to integrate new soldiers to the territorial control government plan in San Salvador, El Salvador July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

HAVANA TIMES – Salvadoran authorities should stop blocking investigative digital outlets El Faro and Revista Factum from attending press conferences at the Presidential House, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on September 11th.

Today, authorities at the Presidential House in San Salvador, the capital, barred Revista Factum reporter Rodrigo Baires from attending a press conference held by a government minister, the journalist told CPJ via phone. He said that a security officer told him, “you are from Factum, you cannot come inside.”

Previously, on September 6, Presidential House security agents barred El Faro reporter Gabriel Labrador and Revista Factum reporter Fernando Romero from attending a press conference by President Nayib Bukele, both journalists told CPJ via phone. Later that day, the office of the presidency released a statement on Twitter saying that the outlets were denied access due to “bad behavior,” and said that their reporters could be readmitted if they showed respect to other journalists and the institution of the presidency.

The statement also repeatedly asserted the administration’s “respect for press freedom” and accessibility to media.

“Rather than releasing statements describing their commitment to press freedom, Salvadoran officials should demonstrate that commitment by allowing journalists to cover government press conferences,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick in New York. “Media outlets must be allowed to report on events of public interest without facing arbitrary barriers to access. Salvadoran officials should immediately restore access to the Presidential House for El Faro and Revista Factum.”

Both outlets have been critical of Bukele’s administration; El Faro recently published an investigation alleging that Bukele broke a campaign promise of government transparency, and Revista Factum has published a series of reports on ministers and public employees appointed by the president who allegedly worked on secret negotiations with gangs under previous administrations.

Labrador told CPJ that, during his September 6 visit to the Presidential House, he had passed two of three security checkpoints before he was approached by a press officer and told that he was not allowed in the event.

“I thought it was a joke, but when we tried to walk through the third checkpoint, my colleague, the photographer Victor Peña, and I were stopped by the soldiers who protect the presidential residence,” said Labrador.

The statement issued by the presidency accused the outlets of “interrupting an event” by shouting and addressing presidential staff in a “disrespectful and arrogant way.”

Labrador told CPJ that on August 27, Bukele’s press officers terminated a conference just as El Faro reporter Jimmy Alvarado was about to ask a question, and the reporter raised his voice to make his question heard.

Romero described a similar incident on July 2, when a conference was shut down just as Revista Factum reporter Bryan Avelar was going to ask the president a question, but said that Avelar did not raise his voice.

“These things are happening quite often. You, as a journalist, ask for your turn to ask [the president a question], but when your time is coming, they terminate the conference or sometimes they even turn off the microphone,” said Romero.

CPJ called the Salvadoran Presidential Communications Office three times; each time, an individual answered and said they would transfer CPJ’s call, but then hung up. CPJ contacted Sofía Medina, the president’s communications secretary, through a messaging app, but she did not reply.