On August 7, 1987, five Central American nations — Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua — signed a regional peace proposal that was authored by Costa Rican president, Oscar Arias. The proposal, known as the Arias Plan, set specific guidelines and target dates for each nation to comply with in order to stabilize Central America and bring peace to the region.
Two separate studies monitoring U.S. press coverage of the Arias peace plan revealed a startling bias in how America’s leading newspapers covered the region following August 7th. A national media watchdog group, the New York-based Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), concluded that the peace accord set off a U.S. media reaction that “showed once again the extent to which White House assumptions are shared by the national press corps” and how “Reagan’s obsession with Nicaragua has turned into a media obsession.” FAIR’s 90-day analysis of THE NEW YORK TIMES found that the TIMES devoted three times as many column inches of news space to Nicaragua than it did to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador combined.
The other study, by the Media Alliance, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization of media professionals, monitored stories about the peace plan that appeared in seven major dailies — THE N.Y. TIMES, L.A. TIMES, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, S. F. CHRONICLE, S.F.EXAMINER, and the OAKLAND TRIBUNE. The conclusion was the same — most newspapers followed the Reagan administration’s direction as to what deserved coverage in Central America. Altogether, the committee members read, sorted, and analyzed a total of 406 individual articles and editorials and found:
1) More than 80% of the articles published during the first six weeks after the signing of the plan focused entirely or almost entirely on Nicaragua — the Reagan administration’s demands on Nicaragua’s Sandinista government, the prospects for renewed contra aid, or the extent to which Nicaragua was abiding by the Arias plan;
2) While the seven newspapers published numerous articles critical of the Sandinistas and their efforts to comply with the plan, serious human rights problems and violations of the plan by the governments of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala went largely unreported;
3) Sources quoted for comments and analysis in the seven papers were almost always either administration officials, contra leaders, or representatives of other conservative organizations that advocate military solutions to the region’s political conflicts;
4) Editors at the seven papers, when contacted by the SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN for its article, generally acknowledged that the national press has allowed the Reagan administration to set the tone for Central American news coverage.
One result of the biased coverage of Central America last year was that Americans were outraged when the Sandinistas shut down the CIA-subsidized LA PRENSA (now reopened) while they were not even aware that 70 journalists had been murdered by death squads in El Salvador and Guatemala during the past decade. Nor were they aware that death squad activities increased in those two nations since August 7th.
SAN FRANCISCO BAY GUARDIAN, 1/6/88, “On Central America, U.S. Dailies Parrot Reagan Line,” by Jeff Gillenkirk, pp 7, 9-11, 33; EXTRA, Aug/Sept 1987, “Media Put Reagan Spin on Arias Plan,” by Jeff Cohen and Martin A. Lee, pp 1, 5-6.