CHILE There are serious threats to press freedom in Chile. The Chamber of Deputies has approved on first reading a bill that contains a series of measures that if they become law, would greatly infringe on freedom of expression. The "law concerning the freedoms of opinion and expression and the practice of journalism" was approved on its first reading. The measure establishes preferential rights for university graduates to practice journalism. This is a setback for freedom of expression and a regression compared with current laws. In addition, the Chamber of Deputies has just introduced a series of measures intended to guarantee the supposedly threatened plurality of information and to end concentration of media ownership, but which in reality would be opposed to the concept of free enterprise. The Chamber constantly seeks to resolve problems through institutions and mechanisms that are in contradiction to a free and democratic government and a free-market system. The measures were inserted in a bill sent by the executive branch to Parliament quite a while ago. Four of the measures introduced by the Chamber into the original bill- which contains nothing of the kind - pose serious threats to press freedom: Right to Information. Article 1 of the third clause of the bill, in the form approved by the Chamber of Deputies, declares "recognition of the right of society as a whole and of all its sectors, groups and individuals to be adequately informed about all the cultural, social and political expressions existing within the society." At first glance, this article appears innocent enough, a well-intentioned expression of what might seem a legitimate public desire. This impression is reinforced by the fact that the statement is found in the first article, generally the one that establishes a framework of principles. But its real intention is much more than a simple declaration. It becomes clear, when one examines this norm in the context of other measures contained in additions to the bill, that its intent is to impose an information pluralism within each and every medium. This goes against the right of each medium to define its own editorial content. It takes away the right of professionals to select and prioritize the abundant information that fiows through their editorial offices every day, in conformance with the limited page space and broadcast time available. State guarantee of pluralism. The first clause of Article 9, approved by the deputies, establishes that "the State has the obligation to guarantee pluralism in the informative system, and thus will favor the coexistence of a diversity of media and free competition between the meclia, assuring the effective expression of different points of view, as well as the expression of the social, cultural, and economic variety of the regions." The idea of turning the State into a garantor of informative pluralism has no basis in the Chilean constitution. It should be underlined that pluralism is already guaranteed in the constitution in Article 19, Number 12, in which every person or juridical entity is granted the right to found, edit or otherwise operate media. In practical terms, the new measure is particularly worrisome in the context of the country's history in this regard. Every time such a concept has been invoked, it has been as a mere euphemism for intervention by the government in media affairs. One can only conclude that a state role in the maintenance of press pluralism is unwarranted. The only effective and fair guarantee of pluralism is freedom. This means freedom for the media to compete among themselves, as well as freedom for individuals to select the media that offers the best information daily. Right to reply through omission. Article 20, recently approved by the deputies, based on the constitutional right to correction and clarification given to every natural person or legal entity that has been insulted or unjustly referred to in information transmitted by the media, establishes "the same obligation with regard to a person who has been deliberately silenced in regard to an event or opinion of importance or of social significance." This strange mechanism can only be understood as something designed by political leaders to gain a hearing out of proportion to their actions. The intent - which is actually to control the media - is cloaked in an appearance of justice. However, the objective in any event will be hard to fulfil, because political leaders never seem to understand the professional task of journalists to select and prioritize the mass of information available. To accept this norm would convert the media into a daily Babel, as well as make them slaves to the egos of thousands of individuals who believe they have reinvented the world daily. Establishment of market quotas. Article 43 of the bill recently approved by tbe Chamber of Deputies poses one of the most serious and absurd threats to press freedom. This article involves crimes relating to free competition. All media in a free-market system, such as the one Chile now celebrates so effusively in other entrepreneurial areas, will attempt in a positive sense to commit the "crime" envisaged in this bill - because each medium is constantly trying to expand and obtain a greater share of the market in order to achieve economies of scale and to better its quality. It is not easy to avoid commiting a crime when it is criminal to: 1. Control more than 30% of the nation's information market in the print media or 30% of the distribution of general-interest newspapers. 2. Control, on the part of an individual or legal entity, more than 15% of tbe general information market, or more than 20% by two or more individuals or legal associations. 3.Have one individual or association dominate two or more different types of media in the same market. What the deputies have approved is so absurd that even they don't understand it. Deputy Andres Aylwin, in an interview published in El Mercurio, responded to a contention that the two most prominent Chilean newspapers, El Mercurio and La Tercera, would be guilty of this crime. Said the deputy: "I recognize that it might appear absurd that a medium - because of its very excellence - would manage to be so successful that it would be prohibited from growing more. However, it must be understood that this is not a sanction against the newspaper, but a proof that pluralism is not functioning within the society. To me, clearly, this is not a situation of a crime that has been committed." (sic) However, Aylwin voted in favor of a law that clearly establishes that it is a crime. It is worthwhile to point out that the measures are clearly political, and aimed at three media groups - El Mercurio, Copesa and the group belonging to Ricardo Claro - which are accused of maintaining monopolies. However, it is not fair to assert the existence of monopolies when it is acknowledged that all three groups are competing fiercely in a relatively small market. In the same vein, it is strange that only three media groups are mentioned, with clear ideological intent, and that the parliamentarians conveniently forgot the existence of other important media groups in the country. Which is, in and of itself, very positive. The Catholic Church owns three television stations, as well as one of the most extensive radio networks in the nation. It also controls the newspaper La Epoca .. In the same fashion, high-ranking authorities within the government itself own the country's principal radio network and, under the same name, operate a magazine, a radio station and a television channel. And, oddly, it is evidently forgotten that the government itself has a nationwide television network, as well as the newspaper La Nación .. The truth is that Chile has an outstanding record in regard to the number of media and the absence of difficulty in establishing media outlets. There are five national television networks, three regional television networks, a wide assortment of cable television channels, more than 550 radio stations, 45 newspapers and 15 general interest magazines. There are nine newspapers in Santiago alone. Thus, this attempt to regulate the market by establishing arbitrary quotas is not only impractical, but constitutes a serious setback to present legal norms. There is no concentration of media ownership. There is no manipulation of information, but rather a decided effort among the media to compete. Finally, a few days ago, 34 opposition deputies petitioned the Constitutional Court to declare the above-mentioned four measures unconstitutional and hence, null and void.