While Ronald Reagan castigates Nicaragua for compromising freedom of the press tenets, the oligarchy-owned mass media in El Salvador are subverted to the whim and caprice of the El Salvadoran government.
Ads are taken out in newspapers to advertise “death lists” signed by known death squad members.
Several TV stations flash a toll free number for viewers to call in the names of “subversives.”
After ten to 15 days in prison without lawyers or filed charges, suspects are placed on TV to give confessions. These extrajudicial confessions are aired on prime-time TV.
In one case, the press published a “death list” signed by the Salvadoran death squads threatening to kill 11 students, professors, and campus workers if they did not leave the country. Four members of the General Association of Salvadoran University Students were on the lists, including its president, Antonio Quezada. Many fled the country.
El Salvador’s political prisoners are publicly humiliated on the nation’s TV airwaves. Suspects can be held incommunicado for days and extrajudicial confessions are acceptable as evidence, if two witnesses state that no physical coercion was used. Torture isn’t legal but is prevalent. The favored methods include sleep deprivation, electric shocks, and the capucha — a canvas sack dusted with powdered lime, placed over the victim’s head and tightened with a rope.
While some of the atrocities have been reported in small articles or recent books on El Salvador, the general public has not been made aware of the government’s role in manipulating the press in what the Reagan administration refers to as a “fledgling democracy.”
GUARDIAN, 4/2/86, “Outcry Results in Student’s Release,” by Paul Martin, p 19; MOTHER JONES, July/August 1986, “El Salvador: Central America’s Forgotten War,” by Janet Shenk, pp 60-72.