Press freedom in Uruguay has been affected by government harassment of the independent press with incessant unfounded accusations, injustices and insults against independent or critical media outlets and journalists as well as discriminatory use of government advertising. There have been further difficulties because of a growing number of judicial orders and attacks, so far only verbal, against the independent or critical media outlets from the Executive Branch headed by President Tabaré Vázquez. Among other notable events, Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa described the previous IAPA report as “impertinent”; and the Judicial Branch appeared to fully assimilate a new standard adopted by the Supreme Court putting public officials’ reputations above press freedom, even when it is a matter of news or opinion of great public interest. On January 10, 2007, the Uruguayan journalists’ union APU said in its annual report. “In general 2006 was not a good year for freedom of expression and there were no improvements in the system of institutional guarantees that would permit its full development.” In June of 2006, President Vázquez made public a “black list” of eight media outlets, three of them newspapers that are IAPA members, accusing them publicly of forming part of the political “opposition” to his administration. Despite the warnings of domestic and international press associations, non-governmental organizations, political parties and prestigious individuals, President Vázquez confirmed his position 7 ½ months later. On March 1, the new daily Plan B asked Vázquez if his comments had been “hurried” or if he “stood by them.” The president answered, “I still hold the opinions I expressed.” In addition, when he was asked about the commotion caused by these attacks, he jokingly responded, “I don’t know what commotion you are talking about.“ In the last six months, the president, his secretary, cabinet ministers, distinguished government legislators and even the first lady have publicly accused various media outlets of unproven “conspiracies” and “plots” against the government, of “playing dirty,” “tricks,” “swindles,” “distortions” and “rotten lies” when they published certain news. They were also accused of starting a “silent struggle” against the administration with the “political objective” of “leaving the impression” that the country is in a “horrible” situation in order to “dampen the hopes” of people. They also have falsely identified professional journalists as members of “intelligence services,” have protested because the press does not “exaggerate the good works of the government,” attacked private television channels for broadcasting “second-rate programs,” converting “news to a spectacle” and making “a morbid display of the dark side of human nature.” In addition they have invented nonexistent “coordination” among media outlets for simultaneous publication of news as part of an “escalation orchestrated by the right wing and their media outlets against the government” to “challenge it” and “disqualify it.” They have called publicly for “a pitched battle in every area” within the reach of officials “to unmask these lying, libelous and immoral political operatives.” On March 2, 2007, during a three-hour street rally, the president, who was accompanied by his entire cabinet, used irony to criticize “the press” for reporting “negative things” rather than the “positive” aspects of his administration. He mentioned alleged “achievements” of his administration, then repeatedly said, “and that was not in the press,” during his lengthy speech, which was applauded by the thousands of supporters of the Broad Front who attended the rally. “Listen to that, journalists,” a Vázquez supporter shouted at the journalists. This sparked more applause from the audience and defiant glares at the reporters. On October 10, Gabriel Pastor of Búsqueda, a leading weekly, asked the administration to inform him in writing of the regulations it uses to open investigations as well as the judicial regulations in effect to process anonymous reports against him. The IAPA adopted a resolution after learning that the Uruguayan Children’s Institute (INAU) had opened an official investigation in September of 2006 based on an anonymous complaint with no telephone record against Pastor, managing editor of Búsqueda, for alleged mistreatment by himself and his wife of one of their children, a 6-year-old boy whom state psychologists wanted to interview. The investigation was opened the day after the newspaper published news that upset the institute’s officials. After four months the government has not responded to his request, and no concrete investigation has been made into the alleged mistreatment of the journalist’s son. Instead, the journalist was insulted publicly by administration officials and government party legislators for having discussed the situation publicly. On February 23, the journalist and his lawyer repeated the request for information about the basis of the state’s decision to investigate his family. But the officials said they would not give him any written information on the subject. They insinuated verbally that if there had been no new developments, the case must have been shelved. On March 5, the journalist presented a new written request to the legal office of INAU repeating his request for the documentation that has been refused him so far. On December 7, 2006, the journalists’ union APU published the first (and so far, only) report on the placement of government advertising since the administration of President Vázquez took power on March 1, 2005. The document, “Monitoring of Freedom of Information and Government Advertising,” reported discouraging findings. In an area that in previous administrations had unseemly, arbitrary, irregular and illegal conduct concerning the management of government funds, the first report on the current administration “revealed the lack of transparency in the placement of government advertising and obstacles to access to public documents.” The investigation covered 11 state agencies that spend the most on government advertising and handle large amounts of money for this purpose. Some of these agencies in the past handled the advertising in an irregular or arbitrary manner. They are the president’s office, two ministries (Transportation and Pubic Works and Public Health), four banks (República, Previsión Social, Hipotecario and Seguros), four public companies (water and environmental quality, telecommunications, electricity and fuels) and one municipal government (Montevideo). According to the report, of the 11 agencies, “only three provided the information requested in a timely manner.” Four “processed” the requests, “but put up procedural or bureaucratic obstacles”; three “completely” ignored the requests and did not even respond. In the remaining cases, “the agency refused to provide the information, because it believed that spending on government advertising was protected by tax confidentiality.” Despite these obstacles, the report concluded on the basis of “private information” that in at least three of the cases, the placement of government advertising favored media outlets identified with the administration, to the detriment of independent or critical companies. The report said the Public Health Ministry increased its advertising in the press, although “the increase” was “in media companies clearly identified with the administration’s politics, while advertising was withdrawn from others.” The mayor’s office in Montevideo also increased its advertising. But the report said “this increase is not fairly distributed, since some received increases while others suffered a decrease. The data show that in addition one of these written publications (with the same politics as the administration) received 4 ½ times more money for advertising in 2005 than in 2004. This increase was not repeated in any of the other media outlets for which we have information.” In addition the state oil company ANCAP increased its advertising in the press. “However,” the report said, “it is important to point out the disproportion of these changes. While some media outlets had their revenues from government advertising decrease by at least half, others (with the same ideological tendency as the administration) had theirs increased almost fourfold.” In the last week of February, journalist Carlos Dogliani, with the backing of lawyers from the Uruguayan journalists’ union APU and the Uruguayan Social and Legal Studies Institute (IELSUR), presented his case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. He said Uruguay had violated the American Convention on Human Rights by restricting his right to “freedom of expression.” The Uruguayan Supreme Court gave him a five month suspended prison sentence two years after he had reported and commented on alleged acts of corruption by the provincial government of Paysandú (350 kilometers northwest of Montevideo). The journalist asked the commission to accept his petition and transmit his complaint to the state, with a declaration that his rights under the convention had been violated. He also asked the commission to recommend that his rights be restored and to suggest that Uruguay modify the norms currently in effect to guarantee the right to freedom of speech. The following are other outstanding events that affected press freedom: On October 11, 2006, journalists in Cerro Largo (390 kilometers northeast of Montevideo) protested the way they had been treated by the police chief. They said he refused to answer questions about his work and granted interviews based on what topics the reporters want him to discuss. The Interior Ministry verbally admonished the police chief, but the situation did not change. On October 26, the provincial council of Río Negro (310 kilometers northwest of Montevideo) expressed its “solidarity” with three local journalists who had been attacked verbally the week before by Argentine protesters from Gualeguaychú while covering their demonstration against the building of a cellulose factory on the eastern bank of the Uruguay River. On October 31, Angel Núñez Guerra of the daily El Acontecer, of Durazno (180 kilometers north of Montevideo) was sued for “defamation” because of his journalistic works by Mario Islas, a local business leader and former gubernatorial candidate of the Colorado Party. On November 6, the journalists’ union APU expressed its support for Martín Sarthou of Canal 12 television after he was charged in a south Florida (United States) court for taking pictures in court of Uruguayan banker Juan Peirano Basso, who was jailed in Miami pending his extradition to Uruguay to face charges of fraud and misappropriation of more than $800 million. On November 15, Homero Rivero, a judge in San José (90 kilometers northwest of Montevideo) dismissed a petition by journalist David Rabinovich, editor of the local newspaper San José Hoy for access to the minutes of the meetings of the budget committee of the provincial council. The judge ruled that provincial legislative organs have the power to decide what information is public and what is secret. Rabinovich appealed the ruling. On November 20, a court shelved a criminal case of “defamation” and “libel” brought against the pro-government daily La República by five police officers of Maldonado (135 kilometers east of Montevideo), who were tried for “abuse of authority” and “serious injuries” because of the way they treated a man in a street in July of 2003. On November 27, the Supreme Court ruled that it was not unconstitutional for a journalist to be called to testify twice for the same offense, in a case in which he was accused by local businessmen. Marcelo Gallardo, editor of the independent newspaper Correo de Punta del Este (140 kilometers east of Montevideo) argued that Article 33 of the Uruguayan “press law” was unconstitutional because it establishes two criminal offenses, “defamation” and “libel.” This makes it possible for the accuser to continue with the case even if the prosecutor asks that it be shelved. The court said the rule is not unconstitutional because there are two distinct kinds of legal protections. On one hand there is society’s generic interest, represented by the prosecutor, and on the other the personal and nontransferable reputation of the aggrieved person. For this reason, the Supreme Court said that it does not violate the prohibition of double jeopardy in the Constitution. On November 28, the journalists’ union APU reported that Luis Carlos Cotelo of Radio Nacional received two anonymous death threats by telephone. On December 4, APU stressed that Pablo Fernández, a journalist of San José, who has been sued for $100,000 by socialist councilman Antonio Castro, broadcasts investigative reports of great public interest on his program on the local radio station CW41. On December 16, Ignacio Álvarez, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, visited Uruguay to advance the investigation of the disappearance of journalist Julio Castro in 1977. He also attempted to have communications crimes, such as “contempt,” “defamation” and “libel” overturned along with other concepts that criminalize freedom of expression. Nevertheless, he did not open a case in the incident involving Gabriel Pastor and he did not mention either the Executive Branch’s conduct concerning attacks on press freedom or the report on how government has been using advertising, both of which he was told about. Álvarez said he supported approval of the bill on freedom of information and expressed his support for community radio stations. He expressed concern about the five-month suspended prison sentence of journalist Dogliani. On December 21, León Lev, president of the Communication Services Regulatory Office (URSEC), announced that the government will call on private businessmen to compete for subscription television and Internet and will authorize the convergence of all technologies with the goal of diversifying the system and ending “quasi monopolies.” On December 27, the Executive Branch revoked an URSEC decision on December 15, 2005, authorizing the Argentine-owned company Multicanal (Grupo Clarín) to broadcast its subscription television service to subscribers outside Montevideo without limits. The Executive Branch said URSEC had ignored “basic principles of good administration and transparency” and “was unaware of” the regulations of subscription television. On December 28, Waldemar Carrerou, a judge who is not a lawyer in Saradí Grande (145 kilometers north of Montevideo) ruled that the local weekly Punto y Aparte should pay $2,000 to a police officer who sued it after it published a letter from a reader that challenged his actions. The ruling threatened the weekly’s survival since its circulation is only 300. On December 28, President Vázquez announced at a cabinet meeting that he had decided to revoke the licenses of radio stations CX50 Independencia, Concierto FM, Concierto Punta and Radio Uno, which are owned by the brothers Berch and Aram Rupenián, after both were sentenced to prison for tax fraud. On February 6, journalist Gerardo Bleier, hired by the Executive Branch to run a new Office of Strategic Institutional Communication, said it would collect “quality” information for President Vázquez and his cabinet using methods similar to those used by military and police intelligence services.