Report to the 70th General Assembly

Santiago, Chile

October 17 – 21, 2014

The Frente Amplio (FA) party, a leftwing group that won nine seats in the Chamber of Deputies in the April 16 elections in which was elected President Guillermo Solís of the Acción Ciudadana (PAC) party, presented a bill whose objective "is to guarantee journalists' right to press freedom." The initiative, approved on August 20 in the Legislative Assembly's Social Affairs Committee, would prevent a news media outlet from "prohibiting or impeding a journalist from investigating and reporting on certain news items or matters of public interest."

On first reading it could be regarded as good practice for journalism, however this is a clear interference in editorial criteria and independence of the media, equiring them to keep on their payroll a journalist even when he or she turns the practice of journalism into an expression of personal or collective convictions that might also be harmful to the democratic regime.

Additionally this would prevent "requiring or pressuring the journalist to hide information about matters of public interest, omitting publishing it or trimming news reports with the aim of favoring particular interests of some group or person, in prejudice to the people's right to obtain true and timely information." Only to be permitted are the "omission" or "trimming" if the media outlet shows that "it is not seeking to favor the particular interests of some group or person in prejudice to the people's obtaining true and timely information."

This infringes upon the work of "editing," whether it be for reasons of space or any other that the media outlet considers normal within its editorial parameters, of style or ethics and of content. In an extreme case it could happen, if the requirement is applied as it is, that a journalist considers that an editing is an "omission" or "trimming" and requires the media outlet to publish his or her version of the facts, even though it is not important if not everything reflects the truth.

Neither can one ignore the unlawful character of intending to impose requirements on information that it be truthful and timely, aspects that the Inter-American Human Rights Court condemned.

The law would also prohibit "requiring or pressuring the journalist to give a certain slant or orientation to his or her news reports, favoring some position or excluding other points of view" – wording on which in principle there would not appear to be any controversy. Nevertheless, the norm falls short when on the contrary it is the journalist who engages in a practice such as that which seeks to punish the media outlet that carries it out.

The fourth approved point of the bill would prohibit "punishing or illegitimately damaging the journalist in the exercise of his or her labor rights for publishing some kind of information always when he or she has complied with the standards that govern the practice of the profession." In principle, as in other cases of the initiative, this appears normal and logical. But this supposes that in practice it should be the journalist and not the media outlet the one that decides what is published.

The proposed law in question is an affront to the independence and privately-owned media and a way of seeking control over editorial stances.