The written press has been the most influential in El Salvador, particularly during the second half of the last century and the first decade of the current. Its informative influence, in particular, lies in the dissemination of political content. Various political and communicational analyst agree that print media in El Salvador set the national and international informational agenda, and that principally television and radio are used as sounding board of the informational content.
Two factors have contributed to earn the print press its influence: The proximity of the business groups that own the newspapers to the political sectors, and the distribution - sometimes - of a more refined journalism, in many cases distant from the frivolity that it is appreciated on television and radio.
However, newspapers have begun to lose ground in many ways. The most obvious is the economic one: In the absence of official figures to put it in perspective - the owners of newspapers are not obliged to show their profits nor are they audited by independent agencies - in recent years the reduction of newsrooms and administrative staff has been notorious in the newspapers.
In January 2017, more than 25 journalists and administrative staff were dismissed from El Diario de Hoy, one of the most renowned newspapers in El Salvador. Later the same year, in September, the other morning newspaper with the largest circulation, La Prensa Gráfica, also fired a group of journalists. The dismissals were publicly denounced by the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES). It is necessary to clarify that La Prensa Gráfica had a significant personnel layoff, many of them journalists, in August 2008, when more than 170 employees were dismissed. Neither La Prensa Gráfica, nor most of the media commented or even reported the dismissals in 2008 or 2017. The dismissals, according to the versions of those affected, were motivated by economic losses of the journalistic companies.
In its website, APES informed and denounced also that on May 3, 2018 "Several journalists and workers of other areas of La Prensa Gráfica were laid off", precisely on the Freedom of the Press Day. The journalists guild states that initially they “had knowledge that at least 120 workers were fired. However, to date the information of only 10 from those 120 workers, has been effectively proven. Editors, photojournalists, multimedia operators and drivers are included among the workers dismissed. Among those affected by the downsizing is Frederick Meza, who was threatened for his job activities on November of last year." APES also states that the newspaper justification for the downsizing is due to "company readjustments". In fact, the downsizing, according to those affected, was motivated by economic losses of the journalistic companies.
Newspaper sales have also declined. In the absence of audits, the most reliable information so far is the internal one, which indicates that the runs of the main newspapers, the morning papers, the so-called big ones, have reached the minimum. Even if they surpassed the 100,000 copies in the 1990s, newspapers like La Prensa Gráfica or El Diario de Hoy current runs vary between 40,000 and 70,000 copies each day. This is a very small percentage for a population of just over 6 million inhabitants, where more than half -53 percent of Salvadorans, according to a survey by CID Gallup from June 2017- say they never read the printed version of the traditional newspapers.
Usually print media are reluctant to express their political ideology, although some studies about content and informative agendas, easily reveal their ideology and political ties by the level of media coverage and its leanings. Two elements may explain this: First, economic groups owned by powerful traditional families in El Salvador as a result of the privatisation of the financial system in 1990. These economic groups have the power to finance business projects using the privatised banks; among those businesses are the communication media and advertising agencies. Second, the known relationship between high regarded journalists with political activities parallel to their journalist position, produce a higher level of influence in the decision-making process within the journalistic companies. In that way, print media and almost the entirety of the media map, reveal an important tie with the political sphere that endangers a democracy sustained by the diversity and plurality of mass media.
The print press market is controlled by three family-owned business groups. The main one, by history, number of newspapers and circulation, is the Dutriz Group, owned by the Dutriz family. It is closely followed by the Altamirano Editorial Group, owner of El Diario de Hoy, and by the Group Borja Bavaria and Editorial Group Bavaria, owner of El Mundo daily.
The Group Dutriz and Editorial Grupo Altamirano, keep investments in business as diverse as: coffee, supermarkets, shopping malls and real estate in rural and urban areas. In 2013, in a newspaper note released by La Prensa Gráfica, one of the Dutriz Group executives, declared that “it is a diversification as an empresarial group, maybe different to our daily activities, but it goes hand in hand with our vision.”
The Borja Group and the Bavaria Editorial Group, are the owners of El Mundo. According to information from the National Registry Center (CNR in Spanish), they are strategic partners of Banco Agrícola (a Colombian investment), of a construction company, a phone company and of providers of electric power among other companies.
The most relevant printed publications are:
- Dutriz Group: Newspapers La Prensa Gráfica (national), El Gráfico (Sports), Mi Chero (national); and local magazines: Ella, Motor city, viva y blur. The Economist for the Central America Region.
- Altamirano Group: Newspapers El Diario de Hoy (national) and Más (national); and magazines: Buen Provecho and Mujeres.
- Borja Group y Bavaria Editorial Group: Owner of El Mundo editorial, owner of the newspaper El Mundo (national, although not published on Sundays) and the newspaper El Migueleño (local).
- Cooperative Society of employees from the CoLatino daily: it publishes the newspaper CoLatino (national). Founded in 1890, it was an evening paper until November 2017, when it announced that it would become a morning one.
- Distribuidora El Independiente: Owner of the weekly El Independiente (local).
In short, four newspapers with national circulation are published daily in El Salvador: La Prensa Gráfica, El Diario de Hoy, El Mundo and CoLatino. It should be clarified, however, that due to the low circulation and because of the many rural areas of the country, newspapers do not reach the whole country, which is divided into 14 provinces, formed by 262 municipalities. El Mundo is, in fact, the only one of the four states its daily circulation on its website: 40,000 copies. However, in the absence of an external audit, the data cannot be verified.
Traditionally, the main newspapers – except for the CoLatino, located at the extreme left wing of the political spectrum- have communed ideologically with the right wing and extreme right wing of Salvadoran politics. It is also noticeable that there is an interest to protect or promote the business groups, linked to political parties, which are behind the publications.
It is necessary to note that in the last decade different publications have emerged within the two main Salvadoran editorial groups, the so-called ”popular newspapers” – Más, from the Altamirano Group, and Mi Chero, from the Dutriz Group. The characteristic of these publications is that they appeal to an audience with little academic background, publishing sensationalist notes, explicit photos of homicides and tabloid-style headlines.