The tendency of President Tabaré Vázquez’s government to insult, accuse, pressure and harass independent journalists and media companies in many different ways continues and, in some cases, has increased. Cabinet ministers, senators and media outlets that support the president have used terms such as “worms,” “despicable,” “low-down,” “loathsome,” “defamers,” “inventors of news,” “distorters,” “unscrupulous liars,” “clowns” and “sons of bitches.” One of the most serious cases involved the president’s assistant press secretary, Gustavo Antúnez, who challenged the news director of radio station El Espectador, Martín Pintos, while he was reporting on a speech by President Vázquez on March 8. Pintos received a text message from a cell phone while he was announcing that he would broadcast opposition comments after the president’s speech. Antúnez wrote: “Why are you explaining? You’re afraid to have on a real president, you worm.” After Pintos’s report was published, Antúnez admitted that he had sent the message to the journalist but tried to soften the attack, saying that it was a waste of time to refer to the case, which he said was “strictly personal.” Strangely, during the speech Pinto was reporting about, President Vázquez announced that his government would be “uncompromising with those who do not want to respect all citizens’ right to express themselves freely, with respect and tolerance.” But so far President Vázquez has not made any decision about the official’s conduct, even after he admitted having sent the insulting message. A similar situation was reported on March 12 by the left-leaning but independent weekly Voces del Frente. In an editorial with the headline “No Calls Accepted,” the publication recalled that President Vázquez said a few years ago that his government would not make “any more little phone calls” to pressure journalists. But it reported that “in recent weeks” it had received at least four calls complaining about news it had published and asking about the sources. “Don’t call any more; don’t dial the phone. Don’t waste time—yours or ours. Let’s be consistent in respecting those who criticize or think differently,” the weekly said. Government advertising was used to reward the media companies most supportive of the government to the disadvantage of the independent or critical press. This caused unequal and unfair conditions of competition. Rafael Inchausti, president of the National Association of Broadcasters of Uruguay (Andebu), demanded “clear rules” and “criteria of efficiency, transparency and fairness” in assigning government advertising, because it is “not always” placed in the “most appropriate” way. A report by four nongovernmental groups (NGOs), including the Association for Civil Rights (ADC) of Argentina, saw “definite discrimination in favor of the media outlets considered closest to the government,” especially three, the daily La República, the magazine Caras y Caretas and the radio station AM Libre. All three describe themselves as pro-government. Sandra Barón, news director of Radio Centenario, which leans left but criticizes Tabaré Vázquez’s rule, accused the government of trying to “kill” the station by using “absolutely fascist” criteria in the placement of advertising. Barón also reported harassment by government officials, with inspections to “monitor” if there is smoking in the station’s studios, electricity cutoffs by the state electricity agency UTE and tapping of the telephones by the state agency Antel. Catalina Botero, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Organization of American States, said during a visit to Uruguay in November: “There are governments that still think the ability to place advertising is discretionary and that they really do not have to give advertising to critics because they do not support government policies. This is incorrect and a form of censorship.” The concept of prior restraint was publicly debated for the first time since the end of the dictatorship (1973-1985) because of decisions by the executive and judicial branches. In October, Inchausti, president of Andebu, reported that a government decree that changed the method of assigning radio and television frequencies “establishes that a specific type of content” proposed by interested parties “will be valued higher than others” by the government. This implies a type of prior restraint which is prohibited in the Constitution. Also in October, a civil appeals court admitted the possibility that prior restraint could be applied to the contents of media outlets if judges consider that news that is about to be disseminated could damage people’s health. Rapporteur Botero criticized this ruling, speaking of “judicial censorship.” Juan Jacobo, director of the national ombudsman’s office, said that state agencies should prohibit television programs that he called “vulgar,” “disgusting,” “impudent,” “coarse and grotesque,” and likely to use “a rotten vocabulary.” Parliament approved a freedom of information law which was an advance over the legal vacuum that existed on this subject. However, it put severe restrictions on the exercise of this right. The Senate approved a bill that would decriminalize the offenses of defamation and insult, or “injuria.” It would also eliminate the concept of “attack on the good name of a foreign chief of state,” introduce the idea of “actual malice” to judge media companies and/or journalists and slightly modify legislation on the crime of “desacato,” or contempt of a public official, and the so-called right of reply. The bill, which has not yet been approved by the Chamber of Deputies, has certain provisions that conflict with inter-American case law concerning press freedom: “Actual malice” must be proved by journalists rather than their accusers; the “desacato” of public officials is too broad; and the “right of reply” still gives judges the discretion to allow government interference in the content of the press. On October 2, the National Association of Broadcasters of Uruguay criticized a decree modifying the method of assigning frequencies, the prohibition of tobacco product commercials, and a bill that would require broadcast and subscription channels to provide free time for political parties during the election campaign. On October 8, the legislative branch approved the freedom of information bill. It provides for exceptions such as information classified as “secret” or “reserved” when it affects “public security” or “human dignity.” Journalist Ana María Mizrahi was sued for defamation and insult (injuria) by Celeste Álvarez, niece of former dictator Gregorio Álvarez. Celeste Álvarez demanded $40,000 in damages from the host of the program “La noticia y su contexto” (The News and Its Context) on the government television station because of statements a former Tupamaro guerrilla had made during an interview on May 9, 2007. On October 20 the “Report on Indirect Censorship in Uruguay” from 2005-2007 by nongovernmental organizations found that the state has a great “disparity of criteria” for placing government advertising. The report concluded that “positive discrimination in favor of media companies considered close to the government” can be detected. In particular, it found a “subtle bias” in favor of the government newspaper La República and the official radio station AM Libre. The dailies El Observador, La República and Últimas Noticias, in that order “received similar advertising after the leader, El País,” the report says. It adds that there is a flagrant difference between weekly magazines with high circulation and those that have lesser or marginal sales. For example, the government’s Caras y Caretas gets almost the same share of advertising spending as Brecha (independent, leftist and sometimes critical of the government) with double the circulation. In addition, Caras y Caretas is just barely behind Búsqueda (independent) which sells four to six times more. With respect to radio stations, the government’s AM Libre received more than 17% of the government advertising while it only covers 4.3 rating points of the listening audience. On the other hand, Radio Montecarlo¸ the undisputed leader in listenership (18.1points), received only 10.2% of government advertising. On October 28, a civil appeals court, mentioned in a ruling the possibility that “prior restraint” can be applied if news that is about to be publicized could harm people’s health. Judges Luis María Simón, Alicia Castro and Sandra Presa ruled on a petition by a family asking that the private television station Saeta TV Canal 10 not broadcast an episode in its program “Víctimas y Victimarios” (Victims and Killers) that would have depicted killings by a person who was schizophrenic and could not be tried. The court rejected the petition because the channel decided voluntarily not to broadcast that episode. But the judges warned that if they had ordered the channel not to broadcast it that would not be “prior restraint.” The court said: “The right to inform, while fundamental, is not unrestricted and therefore it can lead to liability for violations of other fundamental rights, in particular the dignity or health of others.” On November 3, President Tabaré Vázquez began to authorize the transfer of 100% of the shares of more than 10 Uruguayan radio stations in five of the 19 departments (provinces) of the country, to front men for Mexican businessman Angel González. González, who has radio and television networks in other countries, will become the owner in Uruguay of radio stations Sarandí 690, Sport 890, Disney 91.9, Radio Integración Americana, Futura 91.1 and Emisora del Plata 95.5 (Montevideo), FM Total 102.9 and Santa Rosa 90.5 (Canelones), Radio Real 1590 (Colonia), Cenit 100.3 (Rivera) and La Pedrera FM (Rocha). In March, the Uruguayan NGO Grupos Medios y Sociedad (GMS) (Media and Society Groups) reported that “the massive purchase of radio stations by the foreign businessman Angel González, through front men, violates the radio broadcasting law.” It demanded that the Unidad Reguladora de Servicios de Comunicación (Ursec), the communications services regulating agency, take “urgent action.” Jaime Igorra, the director of Ursec, said the concession of these frequencies was not illegal. On November 4, the senators of the governing Frente Amplio (Broad Front) presented a bill that would require that television stations provide free minutes for political advertising between 5 and 11 p.m. On November 10, the government’s Socialist Party reprimanded the editor of the government newspaper La República for an article by Marcel Lhermitte about internal discussions. It called the piece “despicable” and “disagreeable.” The editor of the paper, Federico Fasano, said he “totally agreed” with the party, apologized and announced that he no longer trusts the reporter’s professional ethics. Lhermitte resigned from La República. On November 16, the Senate unanimously approved a bill amending legislation about “communication crimes.” The bill eliminated the crimes of defamation and “injuria”(insult) for publication of “any type of statement on matters of public interest, including public officials and people who because of their profession or position have notable social exposure or anyone who has voluntarily become involved in public affairs.” It also applies to anyone “who reproduces any type of statement about matters of public interest when the author is identified,” as well as those who carry out or disseminate “any type of humorous or artistic work as long as it fulfills the above standards.” The bill warns that this exemption from liability “will not apply when it is proved that the author had actual malice to harm the people or violate their privacy.” The text also eliminates from the Penal Code the concept of “attack on the good name of a foreign chief of state.” It amends legislation about the crime of “desacato” or contempt of public officials, which it says occurs when the actor harms “the authority of public officials” in either of two ways: through “real insults in the presence of the official or in the place where he works” or through “open disobedience to the legitimate mandate of a public official.” In these cases, the sentence is 18 months in prison. However, it states that “no one shall be punished for expressing his disagreement with the authority.” The bill also has slight changes to the so-called right of reply. “At every stage of the process, the case will be closed immediately if the responsible party at the media company proves that it has published or broadcast the reply requested with similar display as the information that caused it.” The Chamber of Deputies has not yet approved the bill. On November 19, Alexis Cadimar of ratio station FM Gente of Maldonado (170 kilometers east of Montevideo) reported to the police that a foreign real estate businessman with important interests in the resort city Punta del Este, had insulted him and threatened to harm him. On November 28, a criminal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling and gave Luis Alberto Giovanoni a five-month suspended sentence for “especially aggravated injuria (insult).” The case began when the reporter, the news director of Radio Arapey and columnist for the daily El Pueblo of Salto (496 kilometers northeast of Montevideo), harshly criticized the commander of a police operation at a soccer match during which he and his son were detained. The court ruled that the reporter’s conduct “violated the most basic ethics” of journalism, because, it said, he used his ability to gain access to a communications company for his “personal problems.” On January 11, Marlene Vaz, who was tried in 2008 for defamation after reporting alleged corruption in the police force of Río Branco (426 kilometers northeast of Montevideo) said her son had died because someone in the police forced “ordered” that he not receive any “assistance” after he had a heart attack. She said this was a reprisal for her reporting. Vaz has been saying for years that she is “persecuted” by a group of police officers because in 2006 she reported in her weekly Opción Cero about a robbery in a police station in Río Brando of contraband that had been confiscated while being smuggled into Uruguay. On February 11, Interior Minister Daisy Tourné criticized the dailies El Observador, El País and Últimas Noticias for discussions in the Frente Amplio about security in the context of the internal battle over choosing presidential candidates. On February 15, the executive branch decided to reserve the operation of the “triple play” system of providing television, telephone and Internet service in one package to the state telephone company Antel and the national operators of subscription television. The government excluded foreign private companies and all other braches of telecommunications. Among those excluded were the Mexican company Telmex, which the government had granted a satellite television license. On February 27, Tupamaro Senator Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro of the governing Frente Amplio, challenged the press, in particular the weekly Búsqueda, demanding that it identify the sources of its news. Fernández Huidobro called journalists of Búsqueda “clowns,” and said they do not publish news, just “lies.” Civil Judge Alejandro Recarey dismissed a suit against Saeta TV Canal 10 by serial killer Pablo Gonçalvez, who is serving a prison sentence for raping and killing three women in the early ‘90s. In August of 2007, the program “La culpa es nuestra” (It Is Our Fault) on Chanel 10 broadcast a cartoon suggesting a sexual encounter between Gonçalvez and other inmates. The judge ruled that freedom of expression, especially concerning satire, “prevails” over the right to a good name asserted by a person who considers that he was defamed. On March 5, Tupamaro Senator Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro of the governing Frente Amplio, publicly insulted the weekly Búsqueda after it published statements in a criminal court by former dictator Gregorio Álvarez. Fernández Huidobro said reporting what the ex-dictator had said in court means that Búsqueda is working “for the dictatorship.” He added that Álvarez is a “son of a bitch” and the weekly is “like him.”