Media legislation

The regulations on the communication media in El Salvador answer to the logic of minimal state intervention. The telecommunication laws give the state a limited role, making the market intervention on the media system easier . This tendency is persistent in the left-leaning government from FMLN. In the last five years there have been adjustments in the regulations that, although they constitute an advance, still do not reflect a public use of the radio spectrum.

There is no general media law in El Salvador and there is no control over what is published. Instead, the granting of the radio spectrum, where radio and television operate broadcasting, is regulated, because it is owned by the state. All the regulation on concessions – and also on telephony and cable television – is included in the Telecommunications Act, which gave life to the General Superintendency of Electrical Power and Telecommunications (SIGET in Spanish), , adopted in 1997.

Access to the frequencies was granted through auctions. Once they were granted, the companies could have exploited the concessions for 20 years, with automatic renovations. On may 5 2016, the National Assembly approved the amendment to the General Act of Telecommunications. Among the main changes are the acknowledgement of the non-profit Communitary Radiodifusion, the suppression of the auction system as the only mechanism to access frequencies and the revocation of the automatic extension of the licenses granted.

The amendment seeks to establish more equitable rules for the three sectors that exercise communication in the country. That way, state media will access frequencies in a direct way and the community media will access through a contest, where the evaluation criteria will be the communicational project and their social impact. Commercial media will access frequencies through the auction mechanism. In addition, with the amendment, the granted licenses will not be able to be transferred or leased without express permission of the SIGET, including an assessment from the Superintendency of Competition. That way the limitation of media concentration and monopoly practices is expected.

In spite of these advances, the amendment does not modify the current media landscape. A specific portion for community media was not allocated, nor was the public media acknowledged. To summarise, the audiovisual media system is still concentrated in commercial media oligopolies. Besides, the regulations about contests are not completely defined, which leaves a wide room for maneuvering for governments and the business sector (Carballo y Cristancho, 2014).

The press has a legal handle in the law of printing, a regulation approved in 1950. Article 8 of the Act assures: "Printers will not be subject to any caution tax. For the purposes of this law, printed Press will be understood as any production, diffusion or sale of newspapers, magazines, leaflets, books, manuals, loose sheets." In this context, print media is subject to very few regulations by the state. The Inter American Press Society (2017) has informed against the hostility toward communication media due to the critics expressed by the President Salvador Sánchez Cerén about their coverage in topics such as safety. In spite of this tension, to date there are no news about regulations focused on limiting the role of the press.

There are some regulations on the content of communication media such as the Article 34 from the Law of Equality, Equity and Eradication of Discrimination Against Women, focused on the expression of an “equal image, plural and without stereotypes of the women and men role in society.” Also, there is the Integral Law for A Life free from Violence Against Women. Nevertheless, both regulations do not establish juridical consequences for noncompliance, with the exception of a fine for communicating “hate content against women”, included in the Integral Special Law (Iglesias, 2014).

There is also the Law of Integral Protection of Children and Youth (LEPINA in Spanish) that forbids the use of images of children without explicit approval from their parents. Also, it promotes the divulgation of rights, duties and guarantees for children and teenagers (Art 97). To summarise, even though there are some laws about content-related issues, regulation in El Salvador is minimal, and this has enabled the growth of amass media market with few competitors.

On February 2016, the National Assembly issued the Special Law against Informatic Crimes and Related Offenses. In its First Article it establishes that "its purpose is to protect the legal rights of juridical assets from criminal acts committed by means of Information Technologies and the Communication, as well as the prevention and punishment of crimes committed for the detriment of data stored, processed or transferred; their systems, infrastructure or any of its components, or those committed through the use of said technologies that affect interests associated with the identity, property, privacy and image of the natural or legal persons in the terms here established and provided in this Law." This law, that did not get the unanimous vote from all legislators, also implies amendments to the Penal Code, so crimes related to data and information protection could be included and cybercrimes can be typified.