Alarm bells rang concerning press freedom when President José Mujica got angry with Uruguayan media over the way they do crime reporting and he raised with the heads of state-owned companies the possibility of suspending placement of official advertising. “What will happen if official advertising is reduced for a month?” Mujica asked at a meeting with those company chiefs, it was reported. He declared that the press is not “collaborating” in the task of educating young people and proposed sending a warning to it. The issue of people’s insecurity and an increase in crime is a highly critical one among the people, which at the urging of the opposition and contrary to the express will of the government are in the midst of a campaign to collect signatures to amend the Constitution, and in this way reduce the age of non-punishment of minors from under 18 to under 16. The president referred to the possibility of “awarding with official advertising” any media outlet that does not give prominence to the police’s crime rate and opts for other topics. His wife, Lucia Topolansky, the governing party’s first female senator, accused the press of seeking to impede the existence of understanding in society, while Vice President Danilo Astori spoke of the need to “give importance to information that refers to very good things that Uruguay is having and that are going unnoticed.” From the second half of August onwards the issue has quietened down. To date no concrete action has been taken, although the Deputy Industry Minister announced that there is a draft media law and it will be presented to the president’s office at the end of the year. The new complaints by President Mujica showed a departure from what was expressed last year to the magazine Veja, when he said that “the best press law is the one that does not exist” and that those in government “should tolerate” criticism because “if they react then they lose twice, because they will be attacked again.” He then came up with the same concept with the Buenos Aires newspaper La Nación, when he declared that “if they bring me a press law it’s going into the wastepaper basket.” Regarding official advertising, the state-owned telephone company Antel – which has a monopoly over cable telephone service and operates in a fully competitive cellular market with its Ancel product, against Movistar and Claro – declared that all information regarding the placement of advertising was confidential. In various media it has been reported that it will spend $19 million in 2011 – a major figure for this Uruguayan medium – but it refused to divulge the information requested by reporter David Rabinovich, on the grounds that it could show “losses and competitive advantages.” What is certain is that at no time was Antel asked to disclose the marketing strategies that it develops, but simply that it reports with what criteria and how much in all is assigned to each media outlet. In Uruguay there is a Law on Access to Public Information and its governing rules require public bodies to demonstrate what harm they could suffer (in this case a loss of competitive advantages), it being more harm than the citizenry is subjected to on being deprived of information of public interest. On July 22 President Mujica called in the heads of all the state-owned companies, angry at what he regarded as “exaggerated” handling of the police crime blotter by some news media, especially television. On July 30 Mujica said the media “should not be distracted” and the handling of crime reporting “can be excellent for gaining audience, but if something that does not bring much ratings has to be said, perhaps we will have to reward that media outlet a little with official advertising, if it were to lose somewhat because of that.” On August 4, the National Association of Uruguayan Broadcasters (better known by its acronym ANDEBU), which brings together radio and television company representatives, expressed “surprise and concern” at the Mujica suggestion, calling it a “means to exercise influence over information.” That day Mujica, referring to radio and television stations, declared that they “lease a public property” and so “there is a right to ask them for something.” He said that official advertising could be used “to help compensate in part for the losses incurred by channels that opt for another style of news coverage than the current one.” On August 5, Presidency Secretary Alberto Breccia reported that in the course of a meeting Economy Minister Fernando Lorenzo had recommended “cutting costs” as a way of facing an eventual economic crisis. He added that in response to the minister’s remarks the president suggested as a first step reducing official advertising in news media. “This is a savings measure, a public expenditure policy” which in no way was intended to “punish” the media, Mujica said.