The many developments in press freedom over the past six months have been mixed. Some mark gains for this fundamental human freedom, while others represent dangerous backsliding and are cause for great concern, breaking with the trend of the past several years and Uruguay’s own democratic tradition. In February the Association of Uruguayan Newspapers (ADYPU) signed a new distribution agreement with the Newspaper and Magazine Union. While the agreement perpetuates a decades-long monopoly, it does provide some relief to publications in difficult economic times. This monopoly is detrimental to the interests of newspapers and magazines, and has been criticized at previous IAPA meetings. Fortunately, an agreement was reached negotiating for a year with the union. Despite this successful outcome, serious executive branch tampering cannot be overlooked and has been criticized by ADYPU. The tampering hindered ADYPU’s parallel negotiations with the National Postal Service to identify an alternative distribution system that better reflects the publications’ interests, after the negotiations with vendors failed. The executive branch’s sudden intervention on behalf of the Vendors Union, meeting with its leaders on several occasions but never with ADYPU officials, was unprecedented in Uruguay and is certainly cause for concern. The action drew criticism from two of the three Postal Service board members and most political camps; there was even talk of an impeachment proceeding. The two Postal Service board members were unable to prevent the agency from committing an offense that carried a substantial fine. However, the ADYPU did not insist on payment, in view of the firm stance taken by these two board members. The crisis in the press has raised awareness in political circles and led to action in the area of taxation. Parliament has opened up to all members of the press a tax and social security system previously available only outside the capital. But there is a catch: the legislation is taking a long time to enter into effect, since the Internal Revenue Service – an executive branch agency – has placed obstacles in the way of regulation and enforcement of the new system. The media are keeping a watchful eye on this situation. After over four years of investigation, a criminal court has tried two officials on charges of illegally placing official advertising on a discriminatory basis without the least reference to technical criteria as a way to reward or punish media outlets. Relying on a report from the Anti-Corruption Authority, the court is broadening the ongoing investigation. This legal action comes in response to complaints filed by Uruguayan media outlets and a formal complaint lodged by the IAPA under a resolution adopted at the 1998 General Assembly in Houston. Beyond cutbacks in funding for official advertising made necessary by economic austerity, the current administration has remedied some existing practices. Even so, there are still isolated cases made possible by the autonomy of certain agencies where transparency is lacking, but these cannot be blamed on the national government. A number of judicial decisions, hearings and rulings on appeal have bolstered freedom of the press. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that will decide the constitutionality of enforcing the right of reply and whether it violates free speech and equal protection guarantees. If the high court declares the right of reply unconstitutional in this case, it will be a landmark decision for freedom of expression in the Americas. But there have also been alarming setbacks in the judicial arena. One local court sentenced a radio journalist to seven months in prison for reporting on alleged fraud in using a prominent public-interest charity’s name to solicit donations from the public without passing them on to the charity. The sentence was suspended. This libel conviction reveals a very dangerous judicial posture that runs counter to widely-accepted international legal authorities. Even greater cause for concern is the fact that the same judge had previously upheld the plaintiffs’ right of reply, ordering the radio station to broadcast the reply twice. Still worse, two months earlier the prosecutor who sought the prison sentence for the journalist had decided not to pursue an assault and harassment complaint, supported by a confession from the assailant and eyewitnesses, filed by the journalist against the plaintiff. There have been other adverse decisions involving the right of reply – almost all of them at the trial court level – but most have been reversed on appeal. The most serious threat to freedom of the press comes from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Uruguay’s legal system has extensive hearing and arraignment proceedings that guarantee the exercise of free speech. But some prosecutors also espouse a kind of school of legal thought that opposes journalists and press freedom, and has in some cases been attributed to actions by the attorney general. This calls for condemnation, and has led to public criticism in political circles and even investigations into interference by the attorney general beyond the scope of his authority. The great concern can be traced to an article on press freedom and privacy published by the attorney general, Dr. Oscar Darío Peri Valdez, in a magazine for all prosecutors with the stated goal of being “a useful tool for future legal action.” The article advocates a regressive legal interpretation of free speech, even resurrecting lines of reasoning from the New World Information Order. Peri Valdez accepts the right to know as part of freedom of speech as established by international conventions. But he goes on to say it is a relative right and rejects it as an inherent right of human beings, calling it a collective and social right. He also suggests that prosecutors should look to codes of ethics to resolve issues relating to journalistic work; Uruguay has no official journalists code. As an example he cites the code of ethics included in Venezuela’s licensing law. He also fishes up an international code of journalistic ethics that he presents as being from UNESCO, but which is really only a document issued by a 1983 UNESCO-sponsored advisory meeting of eight international journalists organizations, some of them no longer in existence and others very unrepresentative. That year they developed a document clearly and expressly supportive of the New World Information Order. Peri Valdez uses the same line of reasoning to elevate privacy to the status of absolute right, something not established in Uruguay’s constitution. He then manipulates several different judicial decisions and legal doctrines to build a kind of impassable wall for prosecutors to defend the acts of government officials and civil servants that essentially acts as a barrier to transparency in government. The Uruguayan Press Association (APU) has filed complaints with the president and the education and culture minister, who exercise authority over the attorney general, as well as with the Supreme Court, parliamentary human rights commissions and international organizations. It has also asked the executive branch to call for the attorney general’s resignation. In its complaint the APU rejects adoption of a dictatorship-like philosophy and criticizes the attorney general’s denials of public access to information and his influence peddling within the corps of prosecutors. The media are also concerned about the lack of certain legal protections to prevent unlawful use of press content sold the same day they appear, just minutes after it hits the streets, by companies that distribute their stories over the Internet or on websites. The legal vacuum is alarming, as is a certain relaxed attitude of the courts, which could bar improper use of such content in violation of copyright law on the basis of international conventions. Even more serious is the fact that many government offices that subscribe to these services which appropriate press reports without authorization and sell them for their own gain.