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)
Uruguay’s media environment remained one of the freest in Latin America in 2014. A package of legal reforms enacted in December were expected to have a positive effect on the broadcast sector.
The 1967 constitution provides for press freedom and freedom of expression, and the government generally respects these rights. Uruguay’s legal framework for the press is considered one of the best in the Americas, with effective community media regulations and laws protecting access to information. However, some defamation laws and bureaucratic adherence to the 2008 access to information law remain problematic. Although a 2009 reform decriminalized defamation of public officials in cases involving the public interest, as well as insults to foreign dignitaries and national symbols, other forms of defamation remain criminal offenses.
In December 2014, the parliament approved a new Audiovisual Communications Services Law (LSCA) that was welcomed by press freedom organizations. The groups praised the inclusive consultation and drafting process, which led to improvements such as the narrowing of provisions on hate speech to restrict only speech that expressly praises or incites violence, and to clarify that these restrictions should not interfere with the reporting of information in the public interest. Public-interest exceptions were also added to clauses on the protection of children from harmful content. The law was signed by the president later in December, but it still faced a possible court challenge, as the Uruguayan Broadcasters Association raised concerns about certain content requirements, such as the obligation to provide free airtime for political parties’ electoral campaigns.
Among other changes, the LSCA calls for the distribution of broadcast frequencies to commercial, public, and community media. It imposes safeguards to prevent a few media groups from dominating the commercial market, and prohibits any single cable company from serving more than 25 percent of the country’s households. The law diversifies content creation and programming by requiring that 30 percent of national broadcast content be produced by independent producers, and that no single producer supply more than 40 percent of the programming aired by a given outlet. And it protects national content by reserving 60 percent of television programming and 30 percent of radio programing for Uruguayan producers.
The LSCA also reforms what had been an arbitrary system of broadcast licensing, creating an Audiovisual Communication Council responsible for licensing and enforcement. The council is made up of five members, with one, the president, appointed by the executive branch and the remaining four elected by a two-thirds majority in the legislature. Licenses for television will last 15 years, while radio licenses will be granted for 10-year terms.
Some existing statutes and practices continue to present obstacles to the press, especially when investigations involve crimes committed during the country’s 1973–85 military dictatorship. In 2014, at the request of defense lawyers, a judge ordered three journalists to name confidential sources for articles that provided information helpful to the prosecution in a case against four former military officers and a police official charged with crimes against humanity. All three journalists refused, but they were not jailed. Supreme Court justices told the Uruguayan Press Association that even though journalists are constitutionally protected from revealing their sources, the defense in a criminal trial has a right to ask judges to require their presence in court.
The media present a range of views and are generally free from external pressure to alter their coverage. Journalists rarely face any form of physical attack or harassment. However, 31 journalists were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship’s “dirty war” period, and progress on investigating those crimes has been slow. In September 2014, Chile and Uruguay signed an agreement to facilitate collaboration on the investigation of crimes committed during their respective dictatorships.
The press is privately owned, and Uruguay hosts more than 100 daily and weekly newspapers. The broadcast sector is mostly private, with the exceptions of a state-owned television station and radio outlet. Ownership of commercial free-to-air and subscription television stations is concentrated in the hands of three major companies, but community media and nongovernmental advocates of media diversity successfully lobbied for the inclusion of diversity and pluralism safeguards in the LSCA to help counter such concentration. There are no government restrictions on internet access, and penetration is high relative to the rest of Latin America, with about 61 percent of the population using the medium in 2014.