Media coverage of Salvadoran elections biased

The press in El Salvador may be free, but it certainly is not unbiased. A recent study by the Latin American Association for Social Communication, showed a significant pro-ARENA bias in media coverage leading up to the elections in both television and newspaper coverage. The study is comprehensive, but one set of its data is set out in this chart:

This chart is a little bit complicated to read, so some explanation is in order. The study looked at the times in which the political parties were mentioned in the television, radio and newspapers. Each mention was characterized as to whether the mention was P - positive, NG - Negative, or NT - neutral. For example, on television, 63% of mentions of ARENA were positive, 10% negative and 27% neutral. In contrast, when FMLN was mentioned on television, 18% of mentions were positive, 62% were negative, and 20% were neutral. The ratios were very similar in the newspapers. Only on radio were the treatments of the parties more comparable (and radio mentions of all parties were more than 50% negative).

The television and newspaper figures are not that surprising. Ownership of television stations is by large commercial interests which tend to favor ARENA. The four newspapers included in the study were La Prensa Grafica, El Diario del Hoy, El Mundo and Diario CoLatino. Diario CoLatino is strongly left-leaning and the other three papers range from right-leaning to ultra-right. Radio, it would appear, is a more democratic forum, probably because it costs less to run a radio station that a television stations or a mass circulation newspaper.

If the figures in the chart above were weighted by the audience which the media reach, the tilt would be even farther in favor of ARENA. Among the newspapers, Diario CoLatino has a much more limited circulation than the three conservative papers. The television stations reach a much broader audience as well.

Perhaps what is most surprising is that the FMLN did as well as it did in the recent elections considering the barrage of negative publicity.

An in-depth look at freedom of expression in El Salvador and media bias is presented in Freedom of Expression in El Salvador: The Struggle for Human Rights and Democracy, by Lawrence Ladutke. This book, published in 2004, looks at freedom of expression in the country since the conclusion of the civil war and contains an important discussion of the link between freedom of expression and the protection of human rights.


El-Visitador said…
What do you think the odds are that the "study" is unbiased?

The people who ran the study wouldn't happen to state on their own website that they are affiliated to a multinational NGO presided by a recognized French leader of the global Left, would they?

Not that there is anything wrong with being of the Socialist persuasion, quite of course, just wondering about the impartiality of the "study."
Anonymous said…
"el visitador", The study is impartial. Don't believe me? Do a study yourself and you'll see that there is a conflict of interest in the TCS as well as the Salvadorian newspapers; most of them belong to ARENA militants or lobbyists. Asking malicious questions like the one you asked in your comment is one of the right wing's strategies to confuse dumb people in El Salvador in order to steal voters from the FMLN. That "trick" doesn't work anymore, because lot of us have opened our eyes for good.
Anonymous said…
For me, the report means that no matter media says, people is smart and knows the talks of somebody in those medias.
By the other hand, the study is only the appreciation of the poll by the people.
I mean, if somebody ask to you what is your appreciation, you can say what you think in order of your convictions.
So, what the poll is searching is not impartial.
Tim said…
To "EL Visitador"

The study itself was commissioned by the Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES). I think the APES generally has a good reputation for trying to improve the level of journalistic ethics in the country. I agree it is important to consider any bias in the study and so the identity of the authors of the study, their affiliations, and the methodology is all set out on the APES web site .

But I have a hard time believing that you honestly disagree with the conclusions of the study. You certainly can't think that the coverage in the Salvadoran mass media of the political parties does not have a decidedly conservative slant. All you need to do is look at the way La Prensa would unquestioningly repeat the allegations of ARENA party leaders that the FMLN was linked to the gangs, without putting any context around the remarks or making any attempt to judge whether the allegations made sense or had any proof.
Anonymous said…
In the U.S. journalistic careers are made and peer approval comes from exposing flaws in the government, preferably Republican, and the military. Woodward and Bernstein would have never gotten famous writing stories about how well things were going because of the wonderful way the government was doing it´s job. This produces an adversarial relationship between the press and the government and the military. Sometimes that´s good, sometimes that´s bad. Example, an American soldier in Iraq can only get media exposure if he dies or abuses a prisoner or flushes a Koran in the toilet. Several have received the Medal of Honor for acts of bravery that will be the basis for a movie 20 years from now, but till then no one will know their name. For journalists there are no big bylines for telling their story. Here in El Salvador that doesn´t seem to always be the case. It´s actually ok to be positive when writing a story about something that Tony Saca or the Arena government is doing. I understand that a free press has the obligation to keep the government honest, but the other side of the ditch is that a constant barrage of negativity from the press hides the truth as well. Example, the American economy has been doing wonderful the last few years, this year the graduating classes from universities face full employment, according to one source. The Dow Jones is at almost record levels, but opinion polls show most Americans thinking the economy is in the tank. Why, because the press can´t bring itself to report positive news, because of the belief that they become cheerleaders for the government. But sometimes the truth is good news. In El Salvador, that adversarial relationship between the press and the government isn´t that fully developed, and that may not be such a bad thing.
Anonymous said…
One thing is for journalism to report on both the good, the bad, and the ugly of the government. It is another completely different thing for a journalistic source to be "controlled" by a political party, that refuses to showcase the negativity within the current government, instead engaging on "propaganga" and slander against the opposition. So, I wouldn't say "hat adversarial relationship between the press and the government isn´t that fully developed, and that may not be such a bad thing.", it is a terrible thing. Because here journalism revolves around a bias. So much for objectivity in the press. One just has to take a look at some of the editorials (which even though it represents the opinion of the authors, it somewhat reflect the mindset of the newspaper itself) in either La Prensa Grafica or Diario de Hoy to take notice of the kind of trash that circulates thanks to the press.

Take a look at this:

Anti-communist propaganda? Hell yeah. The great right-wing machine of this country is the press (seeing how the 2 most important newspapers, and the biggest TV network of the country are rightist). Just like FOX NEWS in the US, newspaper/TV journalism here is a circus.
El-Visitador said…
"malicious questions like the one you asked in your comment"

I dispute that the question is malicious. Nonetheless, let me restate my position in non-question form: The coordinator of the "study" is the founder of the Venezuelan subsidiary of Media Watch Global, an organization founded and presided by one of the major activist leaders of the international left.

Tim, I agree that APES clearly disclosed who ran the "study," and I find their actions beyond reproach in that regard. Nonetheless, either because of ignorance, or because of willful omission, APES neglected to mention that the "study" was led by staff of an institution presided by a luminary of the global activist Left. This in no way disqualifies the "study", by the way. It is what it is, so long as one understands its provenance, and I see you agree with this view.

Regarding your and mine personal opinions about the quality of news reporting in El Salvador, I think that's a topic for another day. I will just say that most beat reporters will parrot whatever they are told, and hardly any of them ever challenges those they are interviewing. Critical thinking... it is just not there, yet.

Wally has excellent points regarding the role of the press. When the press elects to report only one side of the story, the public fails to learn the whole story. This is true in ES, the U.S., and elsewhere.
amanda said…
just wanted to say i've been enjoying your blog! I felt weird reading along and never commenting!