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Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Chile

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2005
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2004 - Chile, February 2005, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
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.

A protracted sex scandal that roiled Chile during 2004 highlighted the country's restrictive legal framework for journalists, as well as public officials' lack of tolerance for criticism in the media. In September 2003, businessman Claudio Spiniak was arrested and accused of leading a prostitution and pornography ring. Politicians, prominent businessmen, and a Roman Catholic bishop have also been accused of involvement.

On July 26, three TV reporters who had broadcast images of Spiniak's arrest and a private party he hosted were charged with violating Article 161-A of the Chilean Penal Code, which forbids recording and broadcasting images filmed at private locations without the consent of the individuals involved. On August 10, Chile's Ninth Chamber of the Santiago Court of Appeals dismissed all charges against the three: Paulina de Allende-Salazar and Marcelo Simonetti, reporters with Televisión Nacional De Chile (Chilean state TV), and Emilio Sutherland, of TV Channel 13.

After Channel 13 aired an interview with a woman who said members of the ring had sexually abused her, the outlet was sued by right-wing Senator Javino Novoa, who claimed that the woman's description of her abusers tarnished his honor, even though he was not named. Novoa asked for 1.85 billion pesos (US$3.25 million) in damages. The case was pending at year's end.

In response to the scandal and the press coverage of it, at year's end the Senate was considering a privacy bill that would allow civil and criminal charges to be brought against journalists who "illegitimately interfere" with the privacy of public or private figures and their families. Chilean journalists and press freedom advocates have protested the legislation.

Meanwhile, a bill that would repeal desacato (disrespect) provisions languished in the Senate. The legislation, which the lower Chamber of Deputies approved in late 2003, would amend several articles of the Penal Code and the Code of Military Justice, both of which criminalize insulting the "honor or dignity" of public officials.

Coverage of the Spiniak case also prompted a public debate about journalism ethics, including the use of hidden cameras, the emergence of gossipy, sensationalist news, and the increasing media scrutiny of public officials' private lives.

Local journalists are also concerned about the extreme concentration of ownership in print media, which decreases pluralism and diversity in the press. Two companies control almost 90 percent of the market. Mercurio owns Chile's main national daily, El Mercurio (The Mercury), as well as 18 regional papers, the evening paper La Segunda (The Second), the tabloid Las Últimas Noticias (The Latest News), and seven magazines. COPESA owns the daily La Tercera (The Third), the popular daily La Cuarta (The Fourth), the weekly Que Pasa (What's Going On), a free paper called La Hora (The Hour), and the recently purchased weekly Siete+7 (Seven+7).

2004 Documented Cases – Chile

APRIL 27, 2004

El Mostrador

A judge investigating the March 24 bombing attack against the Brazilian Consulate in Santiago, Chile's capital, confiscated two computers of the online daily El Mostrador ( under Chile's anti-terrorist law.

Police investigators visited the office of the electronic newspaper and confiscated two computers belonging to Editor Lino Solís de Ovando Gutiérrez and reporter Jorge Molina Sanhueza, who covers judicial issues.

Shortly after the attack against the Brazilian consulate, El Mostrador received an e-mail message signed by a left-wing group called the Movement of the Revolutionary Left claiming responsibility for the bombing. A second message sent the next day denied any involvement of the group in the attack.

According to local press reports, Santiago Court of Appeals' Judge Gloria Ana Chevesich issued the order to analyze the content of the computers used by both journalists. After copying the content of the disks, the judge returned the computers on the same day, during the evening hours.

Lino Solís de Ovando Gutiérrez told CPJ that the police had checked the computers two weeks before the equipment was confiscated. The editor said that police had told them that they would be coming to El Mostrador to examine the computers on April 27. "We did not suspect that the equipment would de seized. We firmly believe that the judge violated the confidentiality of sources," said the editor.

July 26, 2004
Posted: September 3, 2004

Paulina de Allende-Salazar, Televisión Nacional de Chile
Marcelo Simonetti, Televisión Nacional de Chile
Emilio Sutherland, Channel 13

De Allende and Simonetti, reporters with Chilean state television Televisión Nacional De Chile (TVN), and Emilio Sutherland, a journalist for Channel 13 television, were charged with broadcasting images at private locations without permission of the people involved.

The charges, which were eventually overturned, came in the wake of a sex scandal that has roiled Chile for the past year.

In September 2003, Santiago businessman Claudio Spiniak was arrested and accused of leading a prostitution and pornography ring. Since then, the scandal has swirled around top politicians, prominent businessmen, police officers, and a Roman Catholic bishop, all allegedly involved in the ring. Spiniak has denied the allegations against him.

Judge Eleonora Domínguez charged the three journalists with violating Article 161-A of the Chilean Penal Code, which forbids recording and disseminating images at private locations without the consent of the individuals involved. Sutherland was accused of filming Spiniak's arrest at his home, while De Allende and Simonetti were charged for airing images of a private party hosted by the accused businessman.

Judge Domínguez also charged De Allende and Simonetti with acquiring a stolen item – the camera used in the filming. De Allende said the allegation was false. "The images came from an individual who expressly asked us not to reveal their identity and we protected our source," the journalist told CPJ.

De Allende and Simonetti were freed on bail. Four days later, on July 30, the three journalists filed an appeal seeking annulment on grounds of unconstitutionality. On August 10, Chile's Ninth Chamber of the Santiago Court of Appeals revoked all charges.

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