57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 CHILE The press has gone about its business as usual without serious violations. The Law on Freedom of Opinion and Information and Journalistic Practice was enacted on June 4. The new law did away with regulations allowing judges to ban journalistic coverage of court proceedings at their discretion, eliminated military jurisdiction for abuses committed against military personnel through the media, and repealed Article 6(b) of the State Security Act, which could be used to charge journalists with offending senior government officials in their writing. Nevertheless, the new legislation preserves the crime of insulting public officials as a legal concept in the Criminal Code; limits the status of journalist to holders of university degrees, making a degree a mandatory requirement for working as a journalist in the public administration; increases fines and imposes the payment of additional damages for emotional distress on those who commit the crimes of insulting or wrongfully accusing a person of a criminal act in the press, thus abridging the freedom of speech of each and every citizen. The legislation also preserves other serious limitations on the freedom of the press, such as the mandatory right of clarification or correction and the conscience clause. The relevant provisions establishing the conditions under which the media could report on a person’s personal or family matters, when they are clearly matters of public interest, were mistakenly repealed during debate on the bill. With the elimination of Article 22 of the now repealed Law of Abuses in Publication, the practice of investigative journalism falls within the restrictive purview of Article 161(a) of the Criminal Code. In view of what a big step backward that would be for the practice of freedom of the press, the government has committed to sponsor a bill that would re-establish the Law of Abuses in Publication for a period of nine months, during which time work would continue on a new privacy protection law. The executive branch sent the stopgap bill to the National Congress on March 6. After passing the Senate the bill went to the House of Representatives, where it has not yet been put to the vote. Even so, the administration has made no progress on drafting a privacy protection bill, as it had said it would do. Rather, it appears to favor building on a privacy protection initiative that originated in the House of Representatives and was adopted by the Constitution, Legislation and Justice Committee on April 17. Although in debate the framer of the bill indicated his support for the basic idea of decriminalizing libel and wrongfully accusing a person of a criminal act, and providing protection against affronts to a person’s good name and privacy under civil jurisdiction, i.e., through money damages, the bill expressly states that the action for damages shall not preclude criminal charges from being filed, and, still worse, the description of potential privacy violations has been expanded to bring it into line with Article 161(a) of the Criminal Code. As adopted by the Constitution, Legislation and Justice Committee, this bill is extraordinarily dangerous for freedom of information. However, it has not made much headway in the House, possibly due to the start of the congressional campaign that will culminate in December with the election of all representatives and half the members of the Senate. In a recent statement, Chile’s Federation of Social Communication Media asserted that investigative journalism is a natural ally of the regulatory responsibilities of the House of Representatives, and that the legal vacuum that has been created constitutes a serious threat to the practice of journalism and to keeping society properly informed, as well as a perplexing sign of backsliding in the freedom of reporting that a country’s media outlets must possess.