El Salvador commands little attention as a source of Latin America’s outstanding periodicals or writers, though within Central America itself the Salvadoran daily Prensa Gráfica does rate—along with Costa Rican dailies, La Prensa of Managua, and Imparcial of Guatemala City—among the few reliable newspapers in the area. Contrasting with most newspapers and broadcasting stations in Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, the Salvadoran mass media do take on a considerable importance as sources of information about the Central American Common Market, along with the free press of Costa Rica. This volume traces Salvadoran journalism from the folletos of the 1740s through the radio broadcasts of the 1960s. López Vallecillos makes good use of the historiography of José Toribio Medina, distinguished chronicler of the press of colonial and early independence periods in Latin America.

The struggle of Salvadorans to report candidly the activities of governmental officials becomes an indicator by which we can measure the changing degrees of political freedom in this republic’s history more accurately than through the grandiose claims of presidents who quote constitutional guarantees often ignored or suspended. The actual conditions of press-government relations reveal themselves to anyone who reads carefully certain passages of this volume.

Illustrations are especially helpful in capturing the flavor of the press during the last century and the earlier part of this century. Clear reproductions of provocative front pages from El País of 1892, El Porvenir of 1895, La Quincena of 1903, Cactus of 1933, and El Gráfico of 1939 reveal political struggles with the same impact which they may have exerted on their original readers. Reproductions of front pages of La Tribuna and Tribuna Libre of the 1940s tell of the determination of Salvadorans to end the thirteen-year rule of Maximiliano Hernández Martínez. In 1944, even with the army’s guns pointing at them and with hundreds of political prisoners in jail, Salvadorans took to the printing presses. They churned out pamphlets describing the virtues of Gandhi’s passive resistance in India. Students walked out of classrooms; merchants closed their stores; nurses and doctors left the hospitals. There was no electricity, no water service, no garbage collection. The power of the press caused general strikes which brought everything in El Salvador to a halt. The despot resigned.

Not enough space is devoted to Salvador’s most respected daily, La Prensa Gráfica, which in the 1950s and 1960s has been a major source of political and economic news. In the appendix, however, a biographical sketch of leading newspaper, magazine, and broadcasting editors and writers gives special emphasis to the key men of Prensa Gráfica, giving some data which should be in the main body of the book. The chapter on broadcasting is inadequate, considering the importance of radio throughout El Salvador. The few paragraphs on newcasts should have been expanded into an analysis of group listening and of the impact made by such broadcasts on Salvadorans in rural areas of meager literacy. Perhaps modesty prevented the author from giving himself more than one sentence as a broadcast pioneer, but in 1959 he established the first real video news reports, using newsreels, still pictures, and weather maps. Before this, from 1956 to 1959, TV news consisted of an announcer in front of the camera reading a few headlines.

The biographical sketches of leading journalists at the end of the book will prove especially helpful to Latin Americanists attempting to make contact with Salvadoran intellectuals and men in public life. The compilation was made in late 1964 and is already out of date; for example several of the men listed have died. But this list remains the best available at the present time.