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Freedom of the Press 2008 - Uruguay

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Uruguay, 29 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4871f63e2.html [accessed 30 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 10 (of 30)
Political Environment: 10 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 10 (of 30)
Total Score: 30 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Although general conditions for the press in Uruguay remain better than in the majority of countries in the region, some legal and political obstacles continue to raise problems for freedom of expression and democratic journalism. Defamation laws are still used to intimidate journalists, particularly those who report on government wrongdoing during the last military dictatorship. Discretionary allocation of official advertising discourages news organizations from producing reports that are critical of the national and state governments. A silver lining in the Uruguayan media landscape in 2007 was the passing of a law that allows the legalization of community broadcasting stations.

Access to public information remains problematic. In September 2007, the Uruguayan Press Association (UPA) brought a denunciation against the state to the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights. The complaint was triggered by the rejection of journalist Daniel Rabinovich's request for information to the city of San Jose. The city council as well as a local judge had rejected the petition to provide information about statements made by the General Accountant regarding the city's budget. Other cases that express continuous problems for access to public information included the decision of a judge to reject the petition made by journalists to attend a legal hearing on the situation of children living in streets in Uruguay and the rejection of the UPA's request made to the National Telecommunications Agency to provide information about official advertising.

Defamation laws also create persistent troubles for journalists. María Celeste Alvarez brought a lawsuit against Channel 5 journalist Ana María Mizrahi after Mizrahi interviewed Jose Luis Rodriguez, a former member of "Tupamaros" (as the leading guerrilla movement in the 1970s became known). In the interview, Rodriguez stated that Alvarez's father (the brother of former military president Gregorio Alvarez and killed by the Tupamaros in 1972) assassinated one of his comrades in prison. Journalists are not legally responsible for declarations made by third parties. Also, the continuation of 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. The APU and the Uruguayan Institute for Legal and Social Studies submitted to Congress a draft of a law to remove all legal punishment from defamation.

Uruguayan journalists expressed concerns about several episodes of censorship and interference in journalistic work by political and economic interests. They accused the leading daily, El País, of censoring an investigation on the company that controls the television rights for soccer games. Also, they denounced combined pressures from the local mayor and the owner of a radio station on a journalist who had interviewed a city council member who made derogatory comments against the mayor. Death threats were received by a journalist who reported on untruthful advertising of a chat/electronic mail service, and criticisms of journalists made by Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa and the mayor of Rio Negro were also the subject of concern for press associations.

Media ownership continued to be relatively concentrated, but Uruguay has a diverse media system, with more than 100 privately owned papers, though some are linked directly to political parties. There are over 100 private radio stations and at least 20 television stations, as well as one state-owned radio station and one television station that are regulated by the official broadcasting service, SODRE. A bright spot in Uruguay's media legislation was the passing of the "community media" law in December 2007. The law establishes that a third of available broadcasting frequencies will be given to community media, mainly to small radio stations (estimated to be around 200 in the country). "Community media" are defined as radio and television stations that offer public services independently from the State, and given by non-profit civic associations. The law establishes that licenses will be granted through "open, transparent, and public" competition. Press associations had originally drafted the proposed law. Internet use remains above the regional average (around 20 percent), and no government restrictions have been registered.

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