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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Chile

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Chile, February 1999, available at: [accessed 22 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.

As of December 31, 1998

Legal restrictions continue to hamper the press, despite Chile's robust economy and developing democratic institutions. A panoply of onerous laws – many of them promulgated in the 1970s and early 1980s under the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet – criminalize criticism of public officials, control television broadcast licenses, and allow military tribunals to try journalists accused of sedition.

While prosecutions are rare, the threat of legal action hangs over the media. In January, Rafael Gumucio, host of the news show "Plan Zeta" on Canal 2, and Paula Coddou, a reporter for Cosas magazine, were jailed overnight after Gumucio criticized Supreme Court Justice Servando Jordán in an interview with Coddou. Under provisions of the State Security Law which criminalize criticism of public officials, Jordán initiated legal proceedings against José Ale and Fernando Paulsen. The two were formally indicted during the first week of January 1999.

While journalists acknowledge that the threat of legal action undermines their ability to work freely, attempts to reform the press law have been stalled in Congress for nearly five years. A report released in November by Human Rights Watch entitled7nbsp;The Limits of Tolerance: Freedom of Expression and the Public Debate in Chile noted that, "at present freedom of expression and information is restricted in Chile to an extent unmatched by any other democratic society in the Western hemisphere."

Legal reform is only the first step in creating a more professional and pluralistic press. Self-censorship and a concentration of media ownership also limit the diversity of viewpoints available to Chileans. Two media companies – both of which have ties to conservative politics – control nearly all newspapers in the country (two independent papers, La Epoca and Hoy, closed in 1998). While the Chilean press gave extensive coverage to Pinochet's detention in England in November and December, editorials and opinion pieces reflected the conservative perspectives of the media owners rather than diverse views about Pinochet suggested by public opinion polls.

The good news is that Chilean journalists have begun to discuss the challenges facing the press at public forums hosted by universities and public institutions. During the Summit of the Americas, held in Santiago in March, CPJ co-hosted a panel discussion titled "Press Freedom and the Consolidation of Democracy in Latin America." Commenting on a recent study that determined that 85 percent of television news stories in Chile were based on government sources, television reporter Alejandro Guillier noted, "I think we [journalists] remain trapped in a society that is profoundly authoritarian... and encourages hypocrisy as a mechanism of survival."

Attacks on the Press in Chile in 1998

01/13/98Fernando Paulsen, La TerceraLegal Action
01/13/98José Ale, La TerceraHarassed, Legal Action
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