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Freedom of SpeechEl Salvador

Oscar Martinez: 'Journalism is indispensable'

Gabriel Gonzalez Zorrilla | Alba Amaya
May 3, 2023

Editor-in-Chief Oscar Martinez combats violence and corruption in El Salvador with investigative journalism. Deutsche Welle has awarded him the Freedom of Speech Award 2023.

DW's Freedom of Speech Award is a glass cube mounted on a wooden base
Each year, DW presents the Freedom of Speech Award to courageous jouranlists from across the globeImage: DW/P. Böll

A journalist who writes about topics such as the drug trade, corruption and organized crime in Central America lives in constant threat, Oscar Martinez told DW. Harassment runs the gamut from "physical violence, defamation from politicians and businessmen," to "harrassment of our families, exile, death, prison."

Oscar Martinez is one of Latin America's most renowned investigative journalists. Time and again, his reports have caused public sensation. Born in El Salvador in 1983, he is editor-in-chief of the Central American digital news outlet El Faro (The Lighthouse). Founded in El Salvador in 1998, El Faro started as a no-budget project and quickly became a leading investigative outlet in Latin America that stood for independent and courageous journalism in a region often deemed one of the world's most dangerous.

Mass arrests in El Salvador

Critical journalism under attack in El Salvador

In recent years, the situation for journalists in El Salvador has dramatically worsened. Since assuming office in 2019, President Nayib Bukele has repeatedly attacked and threatened journalists critical of the government. He has blocked a number of them on social media platforms, and made an attempt to discredit the press as an enemy of the people.

El Salvador has been under a state of emergency since 2022, with constitutional rights such as freedom of expression, privacy of correspondence (including digital communication) and the freedom to assembly all suspended.

Journalism must 'reveal the dark corners of power'

But Oscar Martinez has refused to back down. "We believe that journalism must fulfill two essential tasks. First, watch over power and the powerful — reveal the dark corners of power and its control mechanisms. The second is to make visible the lives of the most vulnerable people, of those who suffer under excessive power. And we believe that this is more indispensible now that Central America is experiencing a new wave of autoritarianism," he said.

El Faro's deputy editor, Sergio Arauz, recalled Oscar Martinez's early works: "In 2008, Oscar wanted to write a report about migration. He took the task very seriously — it was one of El Faro's first big journalistic projects. His basic idea was to stay on-site in order to tell the story of the journey. He wanted to take the time needed to tell the story from a fresh perspective and become a true expert in the field," Arauz told DW.

Books about migration and violence in Central America

"The project became a book, gathering all the reports he had written during the year-and-a-half he spent following the migration route and speaking with people," Arauz added. Since then, Martinez has published several books on migration and organized crime in Central America. His book "A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America" was translated into English in 2015. 

"I think Oscar has become an authority in Spanish-speaking journalism, not just because of his books, but also due to his daily work at El Faro. If you read his most recent book, you'll understand what I mean. It is an all-important discourse on journalism for all who want to better understand the work of a journalist," he said, referring to Martinez's 2021 book, "Los Muertos y El Periodista” (The Dead and the Journalist), which has yet to be translated for international readers. 

Oscar Martinez, wearing glasses, in front of shelves full of books
2023 DW Freedom of Speech Award winner Oscar Martinez is editor-in-chief of El FaroImage: Alba Amaya/DW

Angelica Carcamo, president of the Salvadoran journalist association APES, highlighted the importance of DW's award for journalism in Central America. "The fact that DW's Freedom of Speech Award is going to El Salvador is a recognition of the courage and hard work of the many journalists in the country who witness a negative impact on their everyday lives. It is also a recognition of an outlet like El Faro, which has dedicated itself to the documentation of corruption and injustices committed by a political power that is becoming increasingly opaque and is trying at all costs to suppress citizens' rights to appropriate information. The award is also an appeal to the Salvadoran state, which is refusing to acknowledge free and independent journalism as a check-and-balance, instead criminalizing it and thereby deepening corruption within the country. It is important that the award is given in this context, rather than waiting for a journalist to be imprisoned or killed before recognizing the importance of their service to citizens."

The DW Freedom of Speech Award 2023 will be presented to Oscar Martinez on June 19 at DW's Global Media Forum in Bonn.

This articled was translated from German.

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DW Global Media Forum 2023