SAN SALVADOR – El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled that the media and television station owners, editors and managers may be brought to trial for slander, injury or defamation in a decision interpreted as a blow against press freedom.
The high court’s Constitutional Chamber issued a 4-1 decision on Friday regarding the “unconstitutionality” of the third clause within Article 191 of the Criminal Code, which guarantees protection against criminal rulings against the press, Supreme Court spokesman Mario Larin said.
In reaction to the ruling, the country’s main dailies, including El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Grafica and El Mundo, agreed that the decision constitutes a “blow to freedom of expression.”
“The ruling of four justices will foment fear and intolerance,” warned El Diario de Hoy, while El Mundo wrote that “it removes the protection from owners, managers, editors and people in charge” of media outlets.
“That clause protects a certain group, only managers, owners, editors and chiefs of media outlets? According to basic principles of the law, when any regulation is made, the lawmaker has to think that it will be general, that it will be for everyone, it cannot be specified,” Larin said.
The decision eliminates a type of “exemption” which this group enjoyed, Larin said, adding that it ran counter to the principle of the “constitution, which says that the law is equal for all.”
He also said that freedom of expression cannot be “above the other rights, like that of reputation and privacy.”
Article 191, as a whole, was maintained so that criticism would not be punishable, along with making public unfavorable opinions or specific activities carried out taking advantage of the right to freedom of expression, “ as long as they do not demonstrate a slanderous, injurious nature or attack privacy or a person’s own image,” Larin said.
Businessman Roberto Bukele, who in 2007 filed a lawsuit against the legislative decree that in 2004 had reformed Article 191, said that the ruling “completely complies with the unconstitutionality lawsuit” that he brought, and he called it a “victory.”