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Brussels, August 14th, 2017 (SIGNIS). The assassination of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, on March 23, 1980, has not only to do with the defense of the poor and the oppressed, but also with the media and what he thought about those who controlled them. Romero became the voice of denunciation and especially the "voice of the voiceless". For him, every citizen should be respected and able to access the media. Romero underlined in his speeches that the media have a responsibility to serve humanity and to avoid becoming accomplices of those who oppress the people in not giving them a voice.
In the 1970s, most media in his country, El Salvador, were in the hands of the powerful supporting the dictatorship, hostile to the poor or those defending their citizenship. El Salvador was ruled by military dictators since the 1930s, and during all of these years, the government tried to silence the people as well as the truth in the media. Most newspapers, radio stations and television services were in the hands of those who were favoring the dictatorship. It was difficult to find news and critical attitude towards the propaganda and the misinformation campaigns of the dictatorial regime. Those who were critical and fought for the truth did it at the cost of their life. In these circumstances, Archbishop Oscar Romero became the most credible source of information and news in the country. He saw it as a pastoral duty.
Romero did not only denounce abuses in sermons during mass and in churches but also via the radio and the newspaper of the archdiocese. His talks were broadcasted every Sunday and were heard by most of the population. He rejected censorship and the “culture of silence”. He didn’t want to be silent about the persecution of priests, journalists, peasants and those who were militating for democracy. Each week, he was mentioning the names of those who were tortured, killed or had disappeared. He, as a real journalist, also reported on the violence and crimes of the rebels. As a result, he received a serious warning by the regime and its para militias: they bombed the archdiocesan radio station YSAX. In the three years preceding his death, YSAX was bombed ten times! On the day of his assassination, he was talking, in a sermon, about the injustice and the inhumanity of the regime and the rebels: about the torturing of a peasant and the rape of girl by the military but also about the torturing of a policeman by a revolutionary group. For Romero, misinformation, fake news, a culture of silence and propaganda were the worst things to serve the people.
Author Jon Sobrino underlined in his biography Archbishop Romero: Memoires and Reflections the importance Romero gave to the media. He reminded the readers about Romero’s view on the media situation in El Salvador: “Truth is missing from our midst. Too many of us advertise a pen for hire and words for sale. The media are very manipulated, very manipulated. They distort the truth. Do not believe all you read in the papers, see on television, or hear on the radio”. He saw how the media were controlled by the powerful, oppress the poor. The peasants, the popular associations and the Church in his country had almost no access to the content of the media, not even in paid advertisements.
Romero used the media to defend the truth. His opponents, in El Salvador and in the United States, used the media for defamation campaigns by saying that he was on the side of Marxists – which was, during those years, a death sentence. For instance, many manipulated the Pope’s speech in Puebla on February 18, 1978: according to the media, the Pope told the people and the faithful to obey the authority. In fact, he also said that it was the duty of the Church to denounce the abuses of power by that authority, but no reference was given about this part in the media.
On July 22, 1979, Romero expressed his anger and powerlessness about this distortion of the truth: “who will pay for air time to show this other aspect of the Pope’s message? How nice it would be if, alongside their self-serving, paid notices accusing priests of taking a position on social matters, they paid for the publication of the Pope’s addresses at Oaxaca, Monterrey, and Santo Domingo, or the part of his encyclical where the holy father explicitly condemns precisely the abuses that the Church, and consequently we priest are conscience-bound to condemn.”
For Sobrino, Romero had a prophetic view to see clearly and to denounce a society divided between “those who have too much voice (and who didn’t like his Voice) and those who have none (whose voice Romero wanted to be).