After a year and a half of prosecutorial accusations and court rulings against journalists and the media, the higher courts have revoked almost all the lower court decisions against press freedom. Even more important than the actual decisions were the court arguments which were based on cutting-edge legal writings on freedom of the press. The new government of President Tabaré Vázquez, which took office on March 1, has not taken any actions against press freedom, other than verbal harassment by some members of his administration concerning news and criticism by the media and journalists. On June 8, President Vázquez said his government had no interest in influencing the press and committed himself to ensuring “the widest possible freedom of expression and communication.” On May 26, Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa, speaking in Congress, responded that the government is willing to review so-called press crimes and to design “more transparent criteria for the placement of government advertising. Among the crimes that he promised to review, the vice president mentioned the concepts of “defamation,” “libel” and “insult” which are currently in force in the penal code. Among the most notable verdicts by higher court judges, on March 16, the criminal Appeals Court definitively cleared Alberto Rodríguez Díaz. A prosecutor in Salto, 500 kilometers northeast of Montevideo, had asked for a 10 month prison sentence for the crime of “defamation” of an official after the reporter criticized the director of the city zoo in the local daily El Pueblo for the escape and death of a jaguar on August 6, 2004. The court dismissed the charges citing arguments long-held by the IAPA. The judgment held that the role of public servants implies that "freedom of speech is protected as a privileged form of criticism of public officials vis-à-vis other legal interests," and that public officials charged with serving the public interest, act "on behalf of the public, and consequently, their activities should be subject to the broadest control." Even more importantly, the court held that "in a democratic society, judicial persecution of government critics is unacceptable." The ruling was not challenged. Another important decision was made on July 21 by the same Appeals Court in the case of Carlos Dogliani, who had been sentenced to five months in prison for the crime of “defamation” after publishing critical news and opinion articles about decisions of the municipal government of Paysandú, 400 kilometers northeast of Montevideo. When it overturned the lower court’s decision, the appeals court stressed the argument that criticism of public officials “is not just possible, but lawful,” and therefore those who do so have “no criminal responsibility” even when they use “extremely harsh words.” On March 11, an appeals decision supported José Balbis of the daily El Telégrafo of Paysandú. It freed him of responsibility in a trial for “insults” initiated by former leaders of the local soccer league. On March 17, a civil appeals court ruled in favor of Susana Tomás and Raúl Laguna of the television program “Agendiario,” which is broadcast by a channel in Villa Rodriguez, San Jose province, 100 kilometers west of Montevideo. A trial court judge had ordered them to pay damages to a person offended by statements of a woman that were broadcast by the program. The trial court judge had taken the position that journalists are required to establish the accuracy of the interviewee's statements prior to an interview. Furthermore, on September 30, a judge in Durazno (located some 150 miles to the north of Montevideo) acquitted journalists Dino Capelli and Carlos Román Fernández, with the local newspaper, El Acontecer, in a criminal trial for libel brought by executive board members of the main municipal housing cooperative. Judge Gonzalo Silva Marquisio held in his not guilty ruling that in a republican democratic system it is "vitally important that there exist an unfettered press, free from government or private censors to tell them how to report." The ruling added that "it is the people in general," and not judges who are to determine whether the reporting role of the press "has been fulfilled in accordance with the ethical and moral cannons accepted by the society in which the media operates, and it is that society, which will eventually impose the severest of all punishments — to be broadly ignored and ridiculed by the public." The negative notes during this period have come from some members of the administration who have viciously badgered the press and journalists. Senator José Korzeniak of the government’s Socialist Party had the Senate meet to revile the media and journalists, an action that opposition senators considered an attack on press freedom. There were also some negative incidents involving the private sector. On May 13, Channel 12, one of three private stations in Montevideo, decided to take off the air the weekly program “Lanata.uy” of Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata after being pressured about the broadcast of a series called “Untouchables” that reported cases of alleged corruption. Lanata complained that the decision impedes the possibility of “practicing independent journalism” in Uruguayan television. The Uruguayan Press Association (APU) denounced the case as “one of the crudest cases of censorship against journalists since the return of democracy in 1985.” Lanata said the pressures on the channel came from Francisco Casal, an important players’ agent in Uruguayan soccer, who was the subject of a program, and from the former president of the semi-official National Development Corporation and the former vice president of the Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay, Milka Barbato, who was also the subject of a program. Officials of the station went so far as to scratch out names from a tentative list of people that Lanata and his colleagues intended to investigate. The channel said that the program was cancelled “by mutual agreement between Mr. Jorge Lanata, his production team and officials of this channel and the reasons were exclusively economic.” Milka Barbato filed a civil suit on August 3 demanding $700,000 from Lanata, three of his colleagues, the company that produced the program and Channel 12. On September 14 the journalists’ union reported that Marcelo Barrat, co-host of the program “Hippocratic Oath,” broadcast by radio station AM Libre, of the media group of Argentine businessman Federico Fasano, was the victim of “crude and direct censorship.” The union said he “was cut off” by his employer as he was reading a statement by the journalists’ union of TV Libre, who were engaged in a salary dispute with Fasano. The APU said, “It is very important to publicize this type of behavior which is contrary to press freedom at times that the government is studying the granting of a frequency (TV channel 8) to Fasano.” It demanded that radio and television signals be assigned by public bidding. On October 4, El País, a Montevideo newspaper reported that the shipping company, Buquebus, which provides ferry service between the Uruguayan cities of Montevideo and Colonia, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, had decided to levy an "absolutely discriminatory duty" on newspaper shipments. This forced the newspaper to terminate its contract with the shipper. Buquebus, owned by Argentinean shipper Juan Carlos López Mena, also decided to halt advertising with El País. That newspaper had reported that the shipping company, whose owner was one of the principal financial contributors to the election campaign of President Tabaré Vázquez, owed major debts to the government of Uruguay. Newspaper executives at El País believe that both the "discriminatory duty" and the decision to cease advertising are reprisals by López for the hard-hitting stories linking the businessman to the government. A worrisome event is Uruguay’s association with Telesur, the international channel established by the government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Uruguay has only 10% of the shares in Telesur, but the act of joining this enterprise with two governments that are enemies of press freedom, such as Venezuela and Cuba, which hold the most shares, has caused some concern in the country. The opposition National Party formally proposed in Congress on September 2 that Uruguay withdraw from Telesur. President Vázquez’s government rejected this possibility, although he said he would submit the issue to the legislature for consideration. Among other alarming developments: On March 24, criminal judge Ronaldo Vomero sentenced a young neo-Nazi to prison after he threatened journalists for harshly criticizing Nazism. The judge decided to send Robert de los Santos, 19, to jail after finding him guilty of two counts of “private violence.” De los Santos had sent threatening e-mail messages and a handwritten letter to the producers of the Montevideo monthly program “Propuesta” and Miguel Nogeirua, the host of the program “Poder Ciudadano” of the state TV channel. The journalists had severely criticized the activities of neo-Nazi groups in Uruguay. On March 30, Interior Minister José Díaz wrote a letter to IAPA in response to the concern expressed by the organization about the appointment to a high-level position of a police official who had been dismissed by the former government for practicing “state terrorism.” Minister Díaz said in his note that the government of President Tabaré Vázquez will work “with transparency, conviction and commitment for high democratic-republican values,” and expressed the “commitment” of the administration to ensure “full validity of press freedom” and “free and effective practice of journalism, conduct that all officials of this ministry will adhere to with professional rigor.” The IAPA had expressed its concern about the appointment of Inspector Roberto Rivero to a high position in the police department. In 2000, Rivero was dismissed as national police chief during the administration of President Jorge Battle for making telephone threats to Danilo Arbilla, former IAPA president and then editor of the weekly Búsqueda. The government accused Rivero of “state terrorism” after he fabricated a crime by Arbilla to link him to drug traffickers and causing a campaign by media outlets. This campaign was denounced by the IAPA because the media outlets had received favorable treatment in the placement of government advertising. On April 6, a court ordered the television program “Zona Urbana” to broadcast, under protest, a “right of reply” presented by a doctor of the government social services agency whose professional performance had been questioned on the program. The order required that the reply of Dr. Ricardo Alberti be read for six minutes on the program. A week earlier, Ignacio Alvarez, the program’s host, had reported the doctor’s criticism of the assessment that had been made of him. But an Appeals Court ruled that the response “was not read completely, just the paragraphs that the journalist, the producers and the channel chose.” It ordered that the doctor’s entire reply be broadcast. On April 24, the Catholic Church hierarchy threatened to sue the leftist weekly Voces del Frente, which severely criticized the new Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, recalling his past membership in the Nazi Youth. The Bishops Conference of Uruguay said in a statement that it “repudiates” and “regrets that expressions used by some journalists violate basic ethical codes, resorting to lies, mockery and defamation.” On March 5, a leader of the opposition National Party was tried in the city of Rivera, 500 kilometers north of Montevideo, after physically attacking Freddy Fernández Carranza, correspondent of the daily El País, at his workplace. On March 21, the newspaper Centenario, of Colonia province, 177 kilometers west of Montevideo, reported that after 21 months of back and forth, the provincial government finally decided to deny it access to the minutes of meetings of the Local Board of Florencio Sánchez, arguing that they are “internal control documents” and therefore “it is not appropriate that these documents be delivered to journalists.” On June 5, the director of administration of State Health Services, Tabaré González, threatened to initiate “legal action” against the daily El Observador for publishing news about problems in the administration of the main public hospital in Uruguay, calling them barefaced lies. The official said, “press freedom is one thing and licentiousness is something else.” Later, the news was confirmed and the official never sued. On August 11, Senator José Korzeniak, announced in a civil court that he would file a “countersuit” against the weekly Búsqueda, its editor Claudio Paolillo, editorial adviser Danilo Arbilla, columnist Tomás Linn and a dozen journalists of that publication “for serious damages” based on an editorial and “some news stories.” The senator said he would demand $150,000 in damages. The senator’s “countersuit” occurred on the same day that Búsqueda journalists, who had been attacked earlier by the government official as mere “tools” of opposition parties, confirmed in the court a civil suit against Korzeniak for “extra-contractual liability for abuse in the exercise of press freedom and damage to their good names in several aspects including reputation, personal dignity, professional career and personal life.” The plaintiffs each asked for $10,000 in damages.