69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

Freedom of the press and freedom of expression were not seriously threatened or attacked in this latest period. However, some recently passed laws, as well as some bills currently pending in Congress, could have an adverse impact on the editorial freedom of media outlets. Since 2008 a congressional conference committee has been reviewing a bill that would regulate the introduction of digital terrestrial television. Though initially aimed at regulating the migration of current licensees to this new technology, the bill has turned into a vehicle for granting broad powers to the government to influence television stations’ programming and editorial content. Among other things, the bill would inordinately expand the powers of the National Television Council—which oversees the operations of this medium—and would allow it to require stations to devote a certain number of hours each week to cultural or civic programming, or to programming that strengthens national, regional and local identities. Stations would also be required to use its programming to promote certain principles set forth in the law, such as social, cultural, ethnic, political, sexual-orientation and gender-identity diversity. In the bill to amend Law 19628 on the Protection of Personal Information, submitted by the administration in early January 2012, the lack of exemptions for journalism and for freedom of expression is cause for concern. Law 20681, passed on June 6, requires broadcast television channels to air electoral propaganda—starting at 8:00 p.m., with two minutes allocated to each candidate—during the 30-day period leading up to the primary presidential elections. This legal measure imposes a gratuitous tax on broadcast television channels—a burden on holders of free-to-air television broadcasting licenses—during prime-time viewing hours. This represents a form of interference in programming, as well as discrimination against these operators vis-à-vis others to whom the law does not apply. Law 20606, known as the “food-labeling law,” was passed in July. This law calls for providing consumers with better information on the nutritional content of food products, and it bans the marketing of “unhealthy” products to children under the age of 14. All advertising for food products in media outlets must carry a message deemed by the Ministry of Health to promote healthy lifestyle habits. The ministry’s regulations for determining which foods are “unhealthy” have yet to be issued. It will be important to observe the extent to which the platforms and proposals of Chile’s presidential candidates reflect an unconditional commitment to freedom of the press. This will also help shed light on a number of faulty concepts, such as “democratization of the media,” which in practice have led to severe restrictions on press freedom in other countries.