On April 30, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) Jane Zimmerman launched DRL’s new Journalist Security Training Hub in San Salvador, El Salvador. The launch was attended by more than 100 journalism students, members of civil society, and government representatives. The program will be implemented by IREX, and the hub will be housed at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in San Salvador. UCA’s rector, Andreu Oliva, provided welcome remarks and reiterated the urgency of journalist security and its relevancy to the international community. DAS Zimmerman provided additional remarks highlighting the importance of Freedom of the Press and Expression to democracy, the specific challenges in Central America, and the various ways that the USG is pushing the issue forward. Those remarks were followed by a panel discussion among eight journalists from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Panelists described the issues of press freedom, impunity, and corruption in their countries and stressed the need to find a way forward to ensure an independent press and secure population. Some provided personal anecdotes describing the ways in which they had been affected by the violence and pressures from organized crime and media owners. Digital security was emphasized as a particularly important and pressing issue.
Dialogue with Event Participants
After the initiative launch, DAS Zimmerman and Embassy San Salvador engaged event participants in a private dialogue, providing them with an additional opportunity to reflect on the root causes of insecurity among journalists and the potential solutions to the issue. In one way or another, all participants concluded that impunity and corruption were primary contributors of insecurity in their environments. Some participants described the overall lack of success in resolving cases of violence against journalists as emblematic of the broader problem of citizen security and voiced a lack of confidence in their governments’ efforts to assist them. In addition, many journalists referenced the concentration of ownership among news sources and alleged links between media owners and organized crime as being a significant driver of self-censorship. Throughout the discussion, the participants returned to the potential gains that could be had by utilizing DRL’s programming to increase solidarity and secure collaboration among journalists. Some noted the need to support independent news organizations and the positive impact of diversifying distribution mechanisms for those news outlets to include means that would reach more of the general population, such as radio. In closing, DAS Zimmerman reiterated USG solidarity with the journalists and shared that DRL had the ability to assist them or their colleagues if they were ever in imminent danger.
Multilateral Meeting with Government Officials
During the afternoon, DAS Zimmerman and Embassy San Salvador visited the Salvadoran MFA to meet with representatives from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, in a meeting that began with by remarks by Hugo Martinez, the Salvadoran Minister of Foreign Affairs.