05 March 2015
Following an overwhelming election result that assured it not only the Uruguayan Presidency but an absolute majority in Congress, the government immediately sped up the process of enactment of the Audiovisual Communication Services Law (known as the Media Law) and in a little more than 20 days after the final balloting passed it in both houses. While the initiative is not designed to establish rules on the press, it does contain limitations that restrict freedom of expression and others that establish the monopoly of the government in Internet services, through its communications company Antel. It will be the only operator authorized to provide fixed wideband and audiovisual communication services at the same time. Beyond the fact that for the government it is a law that gives guarantees (in several articles it speaks of freedom of expression and that the object of this law is not to limit it), for the opposition it is a strong violation of freedom of expression seen to go “the Bolivarian route.” OAS Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza said that “it is an historic day for Uruguay’s freedom of expression” and warned that it contains dangerous vagueness on objects presumably protected, which could give rise to very serious sanctions. These sanctions could come about through the Audiovisual Communications Council (a political body), the Communication Services Regulating Unit (URSEC, a political body), the Executive Branch of Government or the Judicial Branch. Experience shows that every time governments regulate an inherent human right (in this case the right to free speech) it is to limit it. The declaration of the assets protected gives an idea of the problems at the time of application of the law – promotion of diversity, non-discrimination, “offering in its emissions a respectful image and one inclusive of people in their diversity, thus an enriching manifestation of society.” And it adds, “There may be no form of discrimination of people for reasons of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, disability, cultural identity, marital status, place of birth, religious belief, ideology, political affiliation or socio-economic condition, impeding the dissemination of contents that signify or promote such practice.” As regards advertising there also exists a series of requirements and prohibitions and on the content of transmissions there are certain requirements, such as that of the 60% or the 30% of national production if it is of television or radio, which could give rise to more serous problems even for small media in inland Uruguay. Former President Mujica justified his insistence on this law with the argument that “the sharks from outside if this is not regulated would end us swallowing up. I don’t want Clarín, Globo or Slim to become owners of the Uruguayan communications.” On November 7 Tabaré Vázquez, who had gathered 48% of the votes in the October 30 elections, considered that the media law could not be postponed, and he called for his upcoming administration to take up the task of putting it into effect. On November 20 Monte Carlo Canal 4, one of the country’s most important open television channels, complained that the company Tenfield, owner of Uruguayan soccer rights, had called for the dismissal of journalist Mario Bardanca, a big critic of that company’s owners, as one of the conditions to let it cover the Uruguayan championship goal-making. From Tenfield that demand was denied and it was argued that “the problem of the goals” was because the TV channel did not turn up to negotiate the conditions. On February 6 radio and television companies belonging to Andebu (Association of Broadcasters of Uruguay) requested a legal report from lawyer Martín Risso on the media law, on which would eventually be based appeals of unconstitutionality. In mid-February the Child and Adolescent Institute of Uruguay (INAU) punished the newspaper El Municipio in the city of Carmelo, Colonia province, 155 miles from Montevideo. The action was over a report which according to IANU identified minors in a situation of vulnerability. On February 18 a judge went ahead, within the framework of proceedings initiated in October 2014 by the Anti-Piracy Chamber, with the seizure of news equipment used by the weekly El Eco in Nueva Palmira, Colonia province. What is sought is indemnity for the unlicensed use of software and it is the object of a process of judicial conciliation that was underway at the time of the decision.