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)
Uruguay’s media environment remained relatively free in comparison with those of other countries in the region. While the government took positive steps to legalize community broadcasting, the use of defamation laws to prosecute and intimidate journalists continued to hinder press freedom in 2007. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respects these rights. Access to public information remains a problem, however. In September, the Uruguayan Press Association (APU) brought a denunciation against the state to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The complaint was triggered by the rejection of a journalist’s request for information from the city of San Jose concerning statements made by the general accountant regarding the city’s budget. Other cases that exemplified obstacles in accessing public information included a judge’s decision to reject a petition filed by journalists to attend a legal hearing on the situation of street children, and the rejection of the APU’s request to the National Telecommunications Agency for information on official advertising. However, on a positive note, a bill to legalize community media, originally drafted with the help of press associations and civil society groups, was passed into law in December. The law established that one-third of available broadcasting frequencies will be granted through “open, transparent, and public” competition to community media, mainly small radio stations, of which there are an estimated 200 in the country.
Defamation laws also create persistent troubles for journalists. In April, the Supreme Court upheld the 2006 criminal libel conviction of journalist Gustavo Escanlar Patrone of Canal 10 television, which carried a three-month prison sentence for “insulting” a media proprietor during his talk show. In a separate case, Maria Celeste Alvarez, niece of former military president Gregorio Alvarez, brought a lawsuit against Canal 5 journalist Ana Maria Mizrahi for statements made by Jose Luis Rodriguez, whom Mizrahi interviewed in May. Rodriguez, a former member of Tupamaros (the leading guerrilla movement in the 1970s), stated during the interview that Maria Celeste Alvarez’s father (brother of Gregorio Alvarez) assassinated one of his comrades in prison. Journalists are not legally responsible for declarations made by third parties. In addition, the defamation case that condemned journalist Carlos Dogliani to five months in prison in 2006 continued to attract a great deal of debate and concern as it was presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in February 2007. The APU and the Uruguayan Institute for Legal and Social Studies submitted a draft law to Congress in October that would eliminate desacato offenses (contempt of a public official) and amend defamation definitions; at year’s end, the bill was under review by the executive branch.
Uruguayan journalists expressed concerns over several incidents of censorship and interference in the work of the media by political and economic actors. Journalists accused the leading daily, El Pais, of censoring an investigative report on the company that controls the television rights for soccer games. They also denounced pressures placed on a journalist by the local mayor and the owner of a radio station in reaction to derogatory comments made about the mayor by a city council member whom the journalist had interviewed. Another journalist received death threats for reporting on untruthful advertising for a chat and e-mail service. Government officials such as Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa and the mayor of Rio Negro were critical of the media and launched numerous verbal assaults against journalists and the press.
While Uruguay has a diverse media environment, with more than 100 privately owned papers, media ownership is relatively concentrated. There are over 100 private radio stations and at least 20 television stations, as well as a state-owned radio station and a television station that are run by the official broadcasting service, SODRE. Discretionary allocation of official advertising discourages news organizations from producing reports critical of the national and state governments. There were no government restrictions on the internet, which was accessed by about 32 percent of the population in 2007.