Journalists have been able to work freely, although some matters of special interest to the media, such as access to official sources, have been the subject of lively public debate because of several corruption scandals. There are still threats in the form of bills that, with or without the government’s support, would change the current regulatory framework. The bill on the Journalistic Statue, described in the previous report, was formally introduced in the Chamber of Deputies with the support of all political parties in January. The bill was sponsored by the journalists’ association (colegio), and would amend the Labor Code, the State Administration law and the Press Law. The apparent objective is to protect journalists in the practice of their profession. It would ensure their independence, guarantee the intellectual property of their work, give them preference in access to official sources, require that companies provide insurance for them and regulate the work of student journalists. All these matters are already covered in the laws mentioned above. A specific bill is being considered to guarantee access to official sources. But the following aspects of the bill could have serious consequences. Extension of the definition of journalist: The bill proposes incarceration and a fine for anyone who calls himself or herself a journalist without complying with the requirements of the press law, that is, a college degree. On the other hand, it describes as journalists “direct collaborators in the preparation or production of a news story or journalistic work assigned to a journalist, such as journalistic researchers, editors, editor-translators, copy editors, graphics artists, photographers and camera operators.” The way the bill is written seems to require that the mere act of providing professional assistance, no matter how brief, to a journalist with a degree would make it necessary for the publishing company to enter into a journalist’s work contract with that person, including all that that would require. And among such requirements are working hours, vacations, retirement, severance pay and workers’compensation, etc. as well as other requirements of the bill, such as insurance, a conscience clause and special protection of author’s rights. Conscience Clause: This measure, proposed by the journalists’ association for the Press Law 15 years ago, was rejected this time during the debate in the Chamber of Deputies. Now a new version has emerged that provides, first of all, the right to refuse to perform certain professional activities if they violate a journalist’s duties or the reporter’s “value, religious or philosophic convictions.” Secondly, it would allow the journalist to end his or her labor relationship when there has been a “notable” change in the character or orientation of the company that is incompatible with his or her moral, religious or philosophic convictions, with the right to the usual compensation. It is now proposed that this conscience clause be part of the Labor Code. As a result, an employer, before hiring someone, would have to know what they think about ethics, religion, philosophy and values. Therefore, employees could not be selected according to objective guidelines common to all applicants, but would be recruited in effect because of their ideology. One might think that the conscience clause would cause problems only for journalistic enterprises. But since most journalists with college degrees do not work for media outlets, but rather for private and public entities and state agencies, the conscience clause could have a significant impact when a company’s ownership changes or, in a more obvious case, if a different political group takes over. Protection of the journalist’s author rights: The incorporation of a new article in the Labor Code is intended to protect the material prepared by a journalist, which could only be published in the media outlet stated in his or her contract. Currently journalists’ work contracts cede the author’s rights to the company with the payment of an intellectual property bond and an exclusive agreement to provide professional services. Protection of student interns: The new bill would extend to students all the rights required for journalists such as the conscience clause and protection of author’s rights. Currently the hiring of students is regulated by the Labor Code. Professional internships are an obligation established by the journalism schools, and if a law makes that very difficult and onerous for the media, they will simply stop offering them. The media companies’ collaboration with the universities will end. Preferential access for journalists to information controlled by the government: This is unconstitutional, because all Chileans have access to official sources, under the new Article 8 of the Constitution. No professional should have preference. Access to sources is in another bill being considered in Congress. The official commission on placement of government advertising is continuing its work. In addition to calling various Chilean media executives, it has invited other experts visiting the country, such as Eduardo Bertoni, former OAS rapporteur; Darian Pavil of the Open Society Institute; Roberto Saba, executive director of the Civil Rights Association of Argentina; and Kela León, director of the Peruvian Press Council. There have reached no conclusions yet, and the deadline to complete its investigations has been extended until the end of July. On March 6, as an additional expression of the political world’s interest in the press, the Chamber of Deputies approved the establishment of a Special Commission on the Media. Its objective will be to speed up the consideration of legal initiatives concerning press freedom, freedom of information and the media. The commission shall report on bills concerning these topics and those that the chamber sends it. It is also expected that it can undertake a study of the legal protection of rights and guarantees, the concentration of the media and the functioning of mechanisms to promote media diversity in the country on the regional and national levels, the use of new technologies and the rights of media workers. In fulfilling this task, it can issue specific or general reports within six months, including an assessment of the topics it has analyzed and the conclusions it has reached. These may include proposed legal, administrative or other types of amendments. The commission has not yet been formed and therefore it is not known who the members will be. There have also been initiatives outside parliament to investigate the press in the name of information diversity. The National Economic Prosecutor’s Office accepted a complaint by Manuel Cabieses Donoso, editor of the magazine Punto Final, presented on the same date that the Chamber of Deputies began its investigation in September of 2006. The complaint says the government favors the newspaper chains of El Mercurio S.A. P. and Consorcio Periodístico de Chile, Copesa in the placement of advertising in the print media to the detriment of what the complainant calls the “independent press.” He says it comprises Punto Final, The Clinic, El Periodista, El Siglo, Le Monde Diplomatique and the now defunct magazine Rocinante. “The biased and unjust way the government distributes its advertising,” the complainant said, “means that only the newspaper chains mentioned above, which represent almost the same political interests and visions, use vast monetary resources to dominate the magazine and newspaper market, with unfair advantages, and making free competition a fiction.” The National Economic Prosecutor, Enrique Vergara Vial, accepted the complaint and began an investigation. He has begun asking several newspapers to provide background on their ordinary course of business for the period from January 2002 to September 2006. They have been required to provide, among other things, the following information: a breakdown of all sources of income, with details on income from advertising, specifying what is from private entities and what is from public ones and identifying them; the number of publications and advertisements in the respective medium and total itemized payments for each; the channels of distribution throughout the country with identification of sales outlets and collections made during the period in question. Finally, various lawsuits are continuing in the courts. Among the new cases is a lawsuit for damages by legislator Jaime Mulet against the editor, journalists, managers and owners of the daily La Tercera. Newspapers fully covered the discovery that some of the funds handled by the government agency Chiledeportes had been used to support the political campaigns of spokesmen for the government coalition. La Tercera published news stories between November 2006 and January 2007 referring to the fact that the director of the main office of Chiledeportes had been a candidate on the Christian Democratic Party’s list headed by legislator Jaime Mulet Martínez. The legislator considered publication of this link an attack on his good name. After harshly criticizing the editor and owner of La Tercera on the radio and television in the beginning of January 2007, he filed a civil suit for $1 million (500 million pesos) for compensation for moral damages against the editor, eight journalists and the publishing houses Consorcio Periodístico de Chile S.A. and Empresa Periodística La Tercera S.A. as well as the newspapers’ legal representative. The lawsuit alleges the offense of serious and repeated libel without having a previous criminal trial to establish it as is customary in Chile. Although the lawsuit is inadmissible, it is clearly a form of intimidation by a legislator against a newspaper during the course of a serious political scandal.