Report to the Midyear Meeting

Bridgetown, Barbados

April 4 – 7, 2014

No serious developments affecting freedom of expression occurred during this period. The main concerns continue to be related to the enforcement of recently passed laws and bills currently pending before Congress. Some uncertainty surrounds the proposals being developed by the new administration to promote freedom of expression, which continue to include references to the promotion of editorial diversity, a notion that can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Making its way through Congress since 2008 is a bill for the introduction of digital terrestrial television. Initially intended to regulate the migration of current service providers to this new technology, the bill has become a vehicle for giving the government broad powers to influence programming and editorial content.

This bill would expand the powers of the National Television Council, which oversees the television industry, by authorizing it to require stations to devote a certain number of hours each week to cultural programming, civic development, and the strengthening of national, regional, and local identities. Stations would also be required to promote, in their content, certain principles set forth in the law, such as social, cultural, ethnic, political, and religious diversity, as well as diversity with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity, among others.

A number of the bill's provisions have been challenged, but the final version is not yet known.

As for the bill to amend Law 19628 on Protection of Personal Information, submitted by the executive branch in early January 2012, it is troubling that journalism and freedom of expression are not excluded from the bill's enforcement provisions. This bill remains pending in Congress.

Another bill would require radio stations to devote 20 percent of their programming to songs by Chilean writers or artists. This would set a horrible precedent against the independence of the media in deciding on content.

Law 20606 on "food labeling" was passed in July. This law requires that consumers be provided with better information on the content of food products, and it bans the advertising of "unhealthy" foods to children under 14. Objections to this bill have noted its vague nature, especially with regard to the advertising of food products in the media, which could lead to excessive restrictions.