Freedom of the Press
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)
Chile continued to host a relatively open environment for press freedom and journalism in 2014. As in previous years, debate centered on the lack of media diversity, particularly in the print and radio sectors. Despite these shortcomings, Chile remained unique in the region for providing reporters with working conditions that are generally free of violence, intimidation, and harassment.
Freedoms of speech and of the press are guaranteed under Chile’s constitution. Many of the weaknesses in the media environment stem from press laws and ownership structures that originated during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973–90), which governments in the democratic era have been unable or unwilling to reform. Criminal defamation and desacato (insult) laws have been used to silence journalists sporadically since the country’s return to democracy, often leading to public outcry. However, there were no convictions of journalists under these laws in 2014.
Chile’s Law on Transparency of Public Functions and Access to Information, enacted by President Michelle Bachelet in 2008, continues to serve as a useful tool for investigative journalists, who report that government agencies generally respond to requests for information in a satisfactory manner.
The community radio sector is significantly weakened by Article 36B of the General Telecommunications Law, a legal provision that criminalizes the operation of unlicensed community media. Although the law was originally passed in 1982, Article 36B was not added until 1994. The law imposes fines and imprisonment for broadcasting without a legal frequency, a condition that applies to most community media operators, and has been used to arrest or harass station operators. Community radio stations in southern Chile—an area primarily populated by the indigenous Mapuche people—have frequently been singled out due to their role in protests against commercial forestry and hydroelectric projects in the region.
In 2010, the Community Radio Law was passed to create a legal framework for the operation of the sector. Although the law was criticized as privileging media with outside funders, such as evangelical church groups and municipal governments, it was seen as a positive step because it established a legal category for community media and amplified the permissible wattage for low-power stations. Implementation of these regulations has been held up in part by the failure of Chile’s largest commercial radio network, Iberoamericana Radio Chile, to cooperate with the communications regulator, the Subsecretariat of Telecommunications (Subtel), on the reallocation of frequencies. The World Association for Community Radio Stations (AMARC) states that there are no public tenders for community stations, and that 90 percent of the spectrum is in private hands.
In May 2014 the Digital Television Act was adopted after five years of debate. The law had been approved by the Senate in October 2013, but then president Sebastian Piñera attempted to block it with a veto, which was eventually overturned. The act aims to diversify the media landscape, reserving 40 percent of the television spectrum for community, local, and regional operators. It also gives the public Televisión Nacional (TVN) a second regional frequency intended to broadcast a mix of TVN and locally produced content with a cultural and educational focus. The Interamerican Press Society (SIP) noted with some concern that under the new law, the National Television Council has more regulatory authority and the ability to influence editorial policies, since it can demand a certain amount of airtime for cultural programming. The switchover to digital broadcasting will be implemented over the next five years.
While the state does not exert political control over the media or engage in censorship of content, some journalists and outlets have at times practiced self-censorship or displayed political bias on sensitive topics, such as social protests or the human rights violations that occurred under Pinochet.
Although Chilean reporters are rarely subject to violence and intimidation by state agents, the militarized carabineros police force has been known to target photographers and reporters during street protests. There were few complaints about mistreatment of reporters in 2014, but in December 2013 journalists in the southern province of La Araucanía accused police of assaulting three reporters in confrontations outside a courthouse. Several officers were punished for the incidents in February 2014.
The economic viability of independent media is challenged by the concentration of private ownership and advertising, as well as de facto government support—in the form of state advertising purchases—for a commercial newspaper duopoly. Lack of diversity remains a particular problem in the print sector, in which a significant share of political and policy debate occurs. In July 2013, Reporters Without Borders reported that 95 percent of print titles are controlled by two privately held commercial groups, El Mercurio and Copesa, which also receive the bulk of state advertising expenditures.
In January 2014, the government-owned newspaper La Nación was sold to the private company Comunicaciones Lanet SA. Journalists had objected to the sale, arguing that the paper had provided a contrasting voice to the commercial press duopoly. The historical archive of La Nación was transferred to Diego Portales University, an act that was criticized by journalists and experts who wanted the records to remain public. The newspaper had shut down its print edition in 2010, and reporters had proposed a new business model, but the administration of President Piñera, whose term ended in March 2014, rejected the idea and proceeded with the sale. Journalists challenged the decision in court, and the case was pending at year’s end.
The Spanish-owned Prisa Group, which operates Iberoamericana Radio Chile, controls roughly half of the radio market. Many press watchdogs view the implementation of the Community Radio Law and the addition of measures to ease the technical requirements and application process for new outlets as an indispensable step toward increasing the plurality of voices in Chilean media.
The recent passage of the Digital Television Act could also have the effect of increasing media competition, though the television system in general already features some ownership diversity among the seven free-to-air channels, including the autonomous TVN, which by law is pluralistic and self-financed to ensure its independence.
There are no government restrictions on internet access in Chile. The usage rate is high and growing, reaching 72 percent in 2014.