Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Violence against journalists decreased in 2007, but efforts by the Supreme Court to limit press access to the courts as well as highly concentrated media ownership served to hinder press freedom. The Chilean constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and these rights are generally respected in practice. The 2001 Press Freedom Law removed many of the preexisting penalties for the libel and slander of senior officials. However, a number of vague provisions still prohibit insulting state institutions such as the presidency, the legislature, and judicial bodies. Those accused of defamation of military personnel may also be tried in military courts. In March, the Supreme Court tried to limit the ability of the press to report in the courts or to interview court officials. The decree was rescinded four days later following heavy local and international criticism. In August, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of three Chilevision journalists who used hidden cameras, thereby violating the criminal code, to tape a meeting between a judge and a sauna manager at an establishment that catered to homosexuals. The journalists each received a three-month suspended jail sentence. While constitutional provisions allowing censorship have been eliminated, at least two books remain banned under judicial order since 1993. In a positive step, the government introduced legislation in October that would help to legally and financially boost the status of the country’s 400 licensed community radio stations, such as the extension of the right to earn funds from advertising. While celebrating the proposed bill, the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters called for additional remaining restrictions to be lifted, including limitations on the territorial range and power of the broadcasting signals.
While violence against the press is limited in Chile, reporting on events that took place during the 1973–90 dictatorship remains sensitive and can place journalists at risk of violence or harassment. Argentine freelance television journalist Benjamin Avila and his Chilean assistants Mario Puerto and Arturo Peraldi were arrested while covering a protest at the house of a former military officer suspected of the 1973 killing of foreign journalist Leonardo Henrichsen. The men were allegedly beaten while in custody and then quickly released following protests by the journalists association. Avila and members of the journalists’ association later received death threats.
Chile has a multitude of both private and state-owned newspapers, radio stations, and television outlets. However, print media ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of two companies that received preferential treatment during the conservative military dictatorship. Leftist media often struggle to survive financially as a result of politically cautious advertisers. In addition, the diversity of the media is affected by an oversupply of Chilean journalists who are forced to protect their jobs and not take too many risks in their reporting, as well as by the low wages and poor benefits they receive. Nevertheless, the media are relatively free to criticize the government and cover sensitive issues. The government does not directly control or heavily influence state-owned print outlets such as La Nacion, or broadcast media, including Television Nacional. There are hundreds of radio stations, and cable television provides the public with local and international programming. The internet served as an additional source of unrestricted information, with more than 43 percent of Chileans accessing the medium in 2007.