URUGUAY Report to the Midyear Meeting Caracas, Venezuela March 28 - 30, 2008 Freedom of the press is in effect, and journalists were allowed to work freely, albeit in a climate of continuous government harassment of media outlets and journalists, whether they be critical, independent, or even supportive of the current government. In addition, Uruguay still has laws providing for prison terms for what are known as “communication offenses,” and this leads to court rulings that curtail freedom of speech. Multiple verbal assaults were launched against the press — some of them downright insulting — by the vice president, five ministers, three senators, and other pro-government leaders, as well as national leaders of the ruling party known as Broad Front. Vice President Rodolfo Nin Novoa — who along with his brother and personal secretary, Gonzalo Nin Novoa, is involved in a notorious case of alleged influence peddling in business dealings with the Armed Forces — claimed that he is a victim of a “smear campaign.” His brother filed a criminal complaint against two newspapers for having reported on the matter. Interior Secretary Daysi Tourné said she was “angry” that the press was not reporting on the things she feels are most important. She complained that reporters are conducting an “inquisitorial” and “aggressive” style of journalism. And she publicly asked, “Where is the limit?” Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Reinaldo Gargano claimed that the Uruguayan media “are not democratic” and that they “control” public opinion, and he proposed changing the “system of ownership” of media companies. Livestock Minister José Mujica said that “for some time there has been a calculated, monitored campaign to divert the press to an effort to undermine the government’s work.” Health Minister María Julia Muñoz publicly admitted that she takes it upon herself to “investigate journalists” when she feels that “some situation” warrants it. Muñoz showed just what she meant when her ministry was accused of corruption in a February article by Daniel Feldman in the pro-government weekly Voces del Frente. Two weeks later, the minister showed Feldman a dossier on his personal and professional life. The journalist later wrote in Voces del Frente that during the Uruguayan dictatorship (1973-1985) he was the subject of “more than one dossier” on his private life, but he added: “Now, under a democracy, it really annoys me. In fact, I wonder who conducted this investigation, and whether they used their own money or the ministry’s funds.” Senator Carlos Baraibar accused the leftist weekly Brecha of orchestrating a political “operation” against Finance Minister Danilo Astori, who is favored by President Tabaré Vázquez to become the ruling party’s presidential candidate for the October 2009 elections. Meanwhile, Senator Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro said that press reports on alleged irregularities in business dealings with the Armed Forces are part of a “conspiracy” to “bring down” Vice President Nin Novoa. On March 24, the Broad Front issued a statement accusing the “major media outlets” of conspiring with opposition parties to attack the executive branch and to compromise “the independence of the judicial branch” at a time when the Supreme Court was about to rule that a tax package passed by the president was unconstitutional. In late 2007, the government appeared to modify its strategy of pressuring the media, when it called on media outlets and journalists to “self-regulate” through a “code of ethics.” Vice President Nin Novoa; Director of Planning Enrique Rubio; and Eduardo Fernández, general secretary of the ruling Socialist Party, talked up this idea for several weeks. In fact, Fernández went so far as to say that even editorials published in the media should be put to “debate.” During this period, one journalist was given a suspended sentenced of five months in prison for defamation; criminal complaints were filed against four journalists for defamation and injuria (insulting or offensive words or actions); three journalists were acquitted in criminal court, or found not liable in civil court, in cases related to their reporting; and one journalist said that he was unjustly denied access to information by the interior minister. These court cases related to press freedom stem from anachronistic legislation in Uruguay, whereby offenses such as defamation, desacato (contempt of a public official), injuria, and “attacking the honor of a foreign head of state,” carry prison terms. A bill that would eliminate desacato and substantially amend the definitions of defamation and injuria was submitted to the government on October 23, 2007, by a group of experts in freedom of speech. The executive branch said it was willing to review this proposal carefully and, if appropriate, submit it to Congress for consideration. The executive branch sent Congress a bill to regulate election campaign financing. This sparked the October 24 protest by radio station associations, which took the position that the initiative “violates the freedom of enterprise” and restricts the right of private property, because it would force radio and television stations to run 50% of its free campaign advertising during prime-time hours and because it would restrict the sale of advertising.