Salvadoran court eliminates immunity for journalists accused of defamation

  • By
  • September 28, 2010

By Ingrid Bachmann

In what has been characterized as a “blow to the media,” the Supreme Court of Justice of El Salvador declared unconstitutional a section of the penal code that exempted media, reporters, editors and owners from legal responsibility for defamation. According to the ruling, the law violated the principle of equality, reported El Mundo and El Faro.

La Página explained that even though the Supreme Court established criminal penalties for defamation -- which until now had just been civil — the ruling maintained protection for so-called “journalistic criticism.” In other words, "unfavorable" opinions from journalists are not punishable.

In an editorial, El Faro acknowledged that the ruling protects the practice of journalism, but said there is a need for new laws guaranteeing even more the rights to information and freedom of expression. “If the ruling of the Court is not accompanied by debate in Congress to create new legislation, then we will be at the mercy of a judge deciding when it is defamation and when it is criticism, and that is also dangerous," the editorial said.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.