As of December 31, 1998

There have been few violent attacks against the press since the end of the Salvadoran civil war in 1993, but legal impediments, a lack of resources and training, and a series of minor incidents impeded Salvadoran journalists' work.

Although defamation is a criminal offense punishable by up to four years in prison, the most serious legal issue threatening the Salvadoran press is the implementation of Article 272 of the penal code, which grants judges the authority to bar coverage of trials where the moral order, the public interest, or national security could be affected. In at least three instances since the law went into effect in April, Salvadoran judges banned coverage of sensitive trials, including the trial of the men accused of the August 1997 murder of radio newscaster Lorena Saravia.

In February, Salvadoran police announced with great fanfare that they had arrested 13 people, among them several former police officers, for the murder of Saravia, who they alleged had been killed on the orders of a jilted lover. Five men were immediately released because of lack of evidence. Seven months later, the remaining eight were set free by a judge who ruled that they had been framed in an internecine police department dispute. While the motive for Saravia's murder remains unclear, the handling of the investigation has raised concerns about a possible cover-up.

Although a new generation of young reporters has improved the quality of journalism, an emphasis on covering breaking news and press releases means there is little investigative or probing reporting. Because of the possibility of violent reprisal, certain topics remain off limits, particularly the growing power of violent drug traffickers. "No one is looking into this," noted one veteran journalist. "It's just too dangerous."

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