Journalists have been arrested and put on trial in recent months, to the detriment of newsgathering activities. In late February, television reporter César Casavieja was arrested, held in custody and ordered by Judge Jorge Imaz to disclose information concerning an investigation into corruption reported on Channel 4 TV. The Uruguayan Press Association expressed its "repudiation of the interrogation of journalists with the aim of making them disclose their news sources, as in the case of Judge Imaz' action, which is damaging to the professional secrecy inherent in the practice of journalism." Failure to use technical criteria in deciding placement of official advertising continues in a country where the government is the biggest advertiser. On another front, there is an abusive monopoly of newspaper and magazine distribution in Uruguay, jeopardizing the free exercise of freedom of the press. Setting a significant precedent, an appeals court set aside a trial court decision and ordered court prosecutors to stop withholding information from the press. The dispute had arisen when Uruguayan journalist Andrés Alsina, correspondent of the Argentine newspaper Página 12 and member of the editorial staff of El Observador of Montevideo, petitioned the courts for access to a report by Public Prosecutor Oscar Peri Valdez on which the government had based its rejection of an Argentine request for extradition of five Uruguayans - four former members of the military and a retired police officer - in connection with allegations they had participated in the "dirty war" in the neighboring country in the 1970s. Alsina said he had tried unsuccessfully to obtain the report by various means and had sought, also in vain, to interview the public prosecutor on the matter. When he asked for the report in writing, he was told he could be given only the date of the report, not its contents. The judge hearing Alsina's petition rejected it, saying he first had to formally petition the public prosecutor and if the latter continued to refuse to hand over the report he should then go the Administrative Disputes Court - an action that could take several years. The petition of the kind filed by Alsina is intended for cases where there is no other recourse. In addition, judges are reluctant to grant the petition where news media are appealing decisions of senior government officials or the executive branch. The judge in this case ruled that had Alsina first gone the administrative route, she would have accepted his petition. Alsina went on to appeal the judge's decision to a higher court, but the issue, now characterized as habeas data, has come before Congress, which is debating a bill that would allow journalists access through the courts to non-classified information. It is common in Uruguay for government agencies and state-owned companies to fail to provide even basic information or to make direct and speedy access virtually impossible. The practice has reached the point where certain government departments, such as Education, Public Health and Social Welfare, among others, warn their employees that they would be committing a "serious offense" and threaten them with fines should they provide information to the press. Government leaders are fully aware of the situation, and have acknowledged the fact. At a recent journalism workshop in Montevideo, Education Minister Antonio Mercader - who worked as a journalist in the 1960s and '70s - said that there was a "culture of secrecy" in Uruguay that has become a cult in society at large and in government. Many in government wanted to hide certain aspects of their administration, he added, despite the provision in Article 29 of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of information. In another case, Raúl Ronzoni, a reporter for the weekly Búsqueda, was hailed before the courts to answer questions about his report of an interview with retired colonel Manuel Cordero, published in the September 27 issue. Cordero has been repeatedly accused by human rights organizations in Uruguay and Argentina of having taken part in repression and abuse during the dictatorship in the 1970s and '80s and the Argentine courts recently sought his extradition. In the interview, Cordero was quoted as defending his actions and those of the Armed Forces and he repeated his remarks in a later issue of the newspaper. This brought an immediate reaction from a number of human rights groups, the leftist PIT-CNT labor union and a number of legislators from the leftwing Wide Front-Progressive Encounter coalition and two days later condemnation by Defense Minister Luis Brezzo of the remarks. The case ended up going to court before Judge José Balcaldi, with Cordero being accused of having committed the offense of "condoning crime" by the labor union leader, human rights organizations, relatives of missing persons and three congressmen from the Wide Front party. Judge Balcaldi suggested to reporter Ronzoni that he hire a lawyer to represent him, thus indicating that he was a defendant rather than the witness in the case. Meanwhile, Cordero's accusers asked the court to order introduction into evidence of a supposed tape recording of the interview. A bill introduced in Congress by Senator Rubén Correa Freitas seeks to safeguard people's good name and reputation, stating that "anyone who feels his name has been besmirched ... by a speech or statement made in public by another person in any medium, by an article or news report disseminated in any communication medium may require the offending party, through two specially-designated intermediaries, to publicly retract what was uttered or published within 48 hours or in the event of non-compliance to face a Court of Honor." If the offending party makes a public retraction, the offended person may not call for any further civil or criminal action. If not, the offended party has recourse to a Court of Honor, to be chaired by a mutually agreed upon third party. The Court must issue its findings within five days by majority decision. If it finds for the offended party, action for damages may then be initiated in the regular courts. Should either party or their representatives criticize the Court's ruling in public or in the press, they will be sentenced to three to 24 months in prison. The Uruguayan Journalists Association called the bill "an extra-judicial instrument of a summary nature" that "seeks to force a staggering retraction by those who exercise freedom of speech."