On Wednesday, former Salvadoran President Antonio Saca announced that the Samix Group, of which he is president, has reached a deal to buy the channel 12 radio station from the Carnaval Group. In an interview with elfaro.net Saca said, “we have now arrived at an agreement and we are in the final stage of negotiations.” This latest purchase is the most recent step in the Samix Group’s powerful control of Salvadoran radio. With the purchase of channel 12, Samix will own a dozen radio stations, the most of any conglomerate in the country (its closest competitor, the Radio Corporation, owns only seven stations). Six of Samix’s stations now offer both regional and national coverage. This purchase raises questions about Samix’s control of the market given Saca’s political history and his status as a national political figure.
Samix’s purchase of channel 12 raises questions about the integrity and independence of the journalism on the stations that he owns. Saca is a member of the right-wing ARENA party and served as president of El Salvador from 2004 to 2009. His history in the media business, however, predates his political ambitions considerably. In his conversation with elfaro.net, Saca denied any conflict of interest that might arise from both being a public political figure and owning such a large share of the radio market. “I understand that there would be some logic to people thinking that I would use the radio for my own political interests, but they shouldn’t forget that I have more than 30 years of experience as a radio announcer and several years of experience as an owner of radio stations,” said Saca. Nevertheless, since leaving the presidency, Saca has left open the possibility of returned to elected office. In April he said, “I would have every right in the world to participate [in the 2014 presidential elections] if it were a propitious political moment.”
Despite the Samix Group’s assurances that nothing will change channel 12’s reporting, the new leadership at the radio station has already caused internal dissent. Ricardo Rivas, former director of the channel, left in July, shortly before negotiations began with Grupo Samix to buy channel 12. When asked about his reasons for leaving, Rivas refused to comment on his departure. Pencho Duque, who hosts the program “A primera hora” with Aída Farrar on the station, succeeded Rivas, but his stay was brief. On Tuesday, the day before Saca announced Samix’s purchase of the channel, both he and Farrar announced their departure from the station. Duque also declined to comment on the reasons for his departure other than to say that it was for purely work-related reasons. He did say, however, that he did not want to speak about “this political matter.” Saca denied any involvement in the resignations.
This is not the first time that Saca’s radio empire has raised conflict-of-interest questions. In the past, he has also been accused of pushing a particular political agenda through his radio stations, despite his claims to the contrary. In 2007, FMLN congressman Sigfrido Reyes accused Samix of refusing to sell ad space to the FMLN party for electoral propaganda on their radio stations. Since Samix is the largest radio conglomerate in the country, such restrictions can have a huge influence on a party’s ability to communicate with voters and constituents. El Salvador is not the only country in Central America where political figures play a large role in the media. A 2002 article in the periodical Journalism by Rick Rockwell and Noreene Janus titled “The Politics of Coercion: Advertising, media and state power in Central America” describes how Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras have all seen close relationships between politics and the media that have often resulted in a lack of journalistic independence and integrity.