69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

Finally, the executive branch of government sent to Congress the bill for the media law. Its main objective are the audiovisual media – it is called the Audiovisual Communication Services Law – and not press media, but included are regulations affecting freedom of expression, the first source of press freedom. The bill was introduced on May 21, but on October 1, after the congressional committee received 49 representatives of various sectors involved in freedom of expression, including public rights professors of the Universidad de la República state university and the three private universities, the Industry Minister announced some 80 amendments to the 183 articles that the bill comprises. Many of the proposed changes respond to the report made by Claudio Paolillo who in his role as chairman of the IAPA Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information had been invited to give his opinion. Paolillo’s full report was published at the time by the IAPA. The most notable advances are: Elimination of the characterization of audiovisual services as “elements strategic for national development.” The Audiovisual Communication Council (CCA), responsible for the application, supervision of and compliance with the requirements of the law shall be made up of five members – one will be named by the President of Uruguay in agreement with the Council of Ministers and the other four by the General Assembly, on the proposal based on personal, functional and technical conditions by a number of votes equivalent to two-third of its members. As the news reports are during the time of protection of minors and therein are severe restrictions on images and news it is established that, as an exception, “in news programs when they deal with situations of clear public interest aired in real time, shall be able to include images of excessive violence, including explicit announcements to prevent their being shown to children. It requires the self-regulation of news media, although it removes the requirement of “being in accordance with the stipulations of the law.” What remains: The Law’s Article 27, under the title Right to Non-Discrimination, says that audiovisual communication services must offer in their broadcasts an image that is respectful and inclusive of all people in their diversity while manifesting enrichment of society. They will not be able to carry out any kind of discrimination of people by reason of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, incapacity, cultural identity, marital status, place of birth, religious belief, ideology, political affiliation or socio-economic status, preventing the dissemination of content that signifies or promotes said practice. That is to say there is a set of very undefined matters that receive protection. The lack of determination of those concepts can result in risky discretionary action, very close to arbitrary action. The punishment: Non-observance of these concepts would give rise to punishments, which go from mere noting to the reversal of authorization to function, passing through written warning, fine, suspension of broadcasts and seizure of assets. The obligation to be part of national radio and television hookups, without limits on the number or time of broadcast and with the sole requirement of what the executive branch of government resolves. On March 18 President José Mujica in his weekly radio address considered that Uruguayans do not recognize the “positive image” of the country abroad, a product of the “defective and sick press freedom. Not because freedom does not exist but rather because it falls into licentiousness, deformation of freedom. There abound half-truths, the constant elimination of contexts and lack of effort to confirm the truth of the news.” On April 5 the President came out in favor of regulating news media in a conference held at the headquarters of Mercosur, where also participating was former Brazilian President Lula da Silva and the secretary general of the Male and Female Workers Union Confederation, Víctor Báez. “Societies,” he said, “have to implement certain regulatory mechanisms which assure, beyond economic strength, the existence of opinions that can be different and that are manifested publicly.” If that is not achieved “and press freedom has to pass through the eye of the needle of the business system we do not have effective press freedom.” On April 11 President Mujica pointed to the press for having “violated his privacy” in publishing his private conversation in which he described President Cristina Fernández as “old woman” and “pig-headed” and referred to her late husband, Néstor Kirchner, as “blind in one eye.” What is certain is that the publication of these phrases went out on the Uruguayan Presidency’s Web site and what the media did was to pick them up. On April 29 a telephone call from the Ministry of Education to a privately-owned television channel prevented the carrying out and airing of a report by a journalist who had been fired by the state-owned Televisión Nacional del Uruguay (TNU) where he had co-hosted the program “Poder Ciudadano” (Citizen Power), which amounted to an act of prior censorship. The journalist, Miguel Nogueira, had been invited to talk about his firing from TNU on the program “Algo contigo” (Something With You) on Canal 4 television hosted by Luis Alberto Carballo. When the taping was being run, it being due to be aired two days later, an employee of the channel rushed into the studio and ordered it to be suspended. “They called us from upstairs; we have to cut the piece. They called from the Ministry of Education and Culture,” the employee said. The recording was indeed suspended and the interview with Nogueira was never broadcast. The journalists union APU issued a statement questioning both the government and the channel over this act of censorship. But Education and Culture Minister Ricardo Ehrlich denied any responsibility of his office and declared “the firm commitment” of his Ministry “to press freedom.” However, both leaders of the union and the host of the “Algo contigo” program, Luis Alberto Carballo, said that there had indeed been a call to the offices of Canal 4, belonging to the state-owned TNU, concerning the annoyance of its director, Virginia Martínez, at the presence of a van of the privately-owned channel that was seeking to interview her while the journalist Nogueira was reporting in the studios. On May 14 the National Child and Adolescent Institute, the body that has under its charge all problems of minors, decided to fine the newspaper El País because in a report on a dangerous gang of young robbers published on June 16, 2010 it identified them by their nicknames and mentioned the place where they lived. The fine, when it was under preparation, had already been denounced at the General Assembly in São Paulo. The El País report related the adventures of a minor nicknamed “El Ricky” (the perpetrator of seven very serious offenses under criminal law – very specially aggravated homicide in connection with six repeated robberies.) On June 30 within the framework of the bill for a Law on Rendering of Accounts that the executive branch of government sent to Congress included were amendments to the Law on Access to Public Information passed in 2008. These presuppose major restrictions to requests due to the fact that they widen the reasons for denial that can be imposed by the agency that is required to provide information. If there already existed annoyance at the arbitrary use of discretion that the government was handling at the time of denying information the amendments increase their possibilities of taking “secret action” and turn the agency into being simply a “dead letter.” On July 18 journalist Gustavo Guisulfo reported an aggression by police officers as he was covering an activity in the Presidency. There he taped the arrest of a tourist with the use of “abusive power.” Although he identified himself as a reporter he was handcuffed, shoved into a patrol car and sent to a police station where his tape was erased. The matter was protested by the Press Association of Uruguay (APU).