A trend has begun among government authorities to file criminal charges for alleged offenses of defamation and libel in order to silence news media.
A charge against the newspaper El Observador and two against El País over the same information marked the tone, which was described by former chairman of the IAPA Press Freedom Committee Claudio Paolillo as an intent of "bringing journalism to justice."
This judicial escalation began with the appearance of a book on the then Uruguayan Vice President, Raúl Sendic, titled "Sendic. La carrera del hijo pródigo" (Sendic: The Career of the Prodigal Son), by journalists Patricia Madrid and Viviana Ruggiero, in which they denounce serious irregularities about him and his time in office while he was at the head of the state oil company Ancap. "The drop filled the glass" Sendic said, adding that "For a long time I have been putting up with a fierce campaign against me and I no longer remain silent. In Uruguay there has been installed a story in a certain sector of the press that seeks to do away with the honorability of people, without having the slightest foundation of anything (...)." He added that Madrid and Ruggiero have "a despicable manner of acting." And "they are going to have to take their doubts and above all their proofs to the criminal justice system and to the civil justice system. They are going to have to respond with their assets."
Sendic described the journalists as part of an international conspiracy. "They are operations that are not created here, but in Atlanta (United States) .... Being used is a sector of the press, at times a sector of the judiciary and of political parties to manipulate public opinion with the objective of destabilizing other political sectors."
In June the weekly Búsqueda published information, obtained under the Law on Access to Public Information, on expenses paid for by Sendic with the Ancap credit card for personal purchases in clothing, jewelry, furniture stores and supermarkets. Sendic rejected the accusations, but resigned from the Vice Presidency under pressure from his own party for "unacceptable" handling of public monies. He is now at the disposition of criminal justice.
On March 25 the newspaper El País published a report on a company that purchased a building for $750,000 and two days later sold it as the only one to make an offer to the Montevideo town hall for a price of $1,490,000, a profit of $740,000 in less than 48 hours.
The operation was observed by the Uruguayan Accounts Tribunal. The superintendant left the deal without effect. But urged by the Frente Amplio governing party was the creation of a committee to investigate why that information was disseminated by the newspaper "with the aim of harming the government's action."
On May 26 Hernán Melino, advisor to Montevideo municipal intendant Daniel Martínez, complained to the editor of the newspaper El País, Martín Aguirre, about the news treatment that the newspaper gives to municipal information. He said he did not agree with the manner in which there was treated the potential transfer of a city park where the football first division team Club Atlético has its soccer field, as well as information referring to the municipal deficit (some $100 million). He criticized the specific work of several of the daily paper's journalists and suggested how to treat some news.
On August 3 the president of the State Health Services Administration (ASSE), Susana Muñiz, filed suit against El Observador journalist Gabriel Pereyra for an op-ed column "¡Hola Susana! Ni los buitres se salvan en sus hospitales" (Hi, Susana! Not even vultures save themselves in your hospitals), in which a number of irregularities are denounced. The hearing was held on August 15. Pereyra said she had no desire to defame. The "exceptio veritatis" (motion to dismiss) and malice were not mentioned.
On August 15 the newspaper El País was notified of a lawsuit, for defamation and libel, filed by José Coya, former president and successor to Raúl Sendic at the head of Ancap. The one being sued is journalist Daniel Isgleas, over a note headlined "Coya awarded a $64 million work without going though the Board of Directors" and the newspaper El País for the editorial headed "The Interminable Precipice." Washington Beltrán, the newspaper's editor and writer of the editorial, acknowledged his authorship. Both the information and the editorial are based on statements by National Congressman Pablo Abdala, who ratified what he had said at the court. Pending is a second hearing to listen to the parties.
On September 7 Cerro Largo judge Mariela Tejera ordered canal 12 television of Melo (Cerro Largo) to pay a fine of $350,000 for a violation of the right to privacy of two minors who were interviewed in a report issued a year ago. This is the maximum amount under the Law on Audiovisual Communication Services in its Article 182 (10.000 UR).
The case came before Judge Tejera because of a denunciation made by the INAU, arguing that the news media outlet violated the contents of the said law's Article 31, which refers to the right to privacy of children and adolescents. The matter occurred on October 3, 2016. Under the headline "There testifies in court a man accused by his wife of sexual abuse of their son," the channel broadcast an interview with a mother and her son, the alleged victim of sexual abuse. The news item was made at the door of the court at the request of the mother, who called the channel and asked that her son make statements.
The interview was edited: The faces of the 12-year-old boy and his nine-year-old sister were blurred (not pixeled) and false addresses were given. The sentence was appealed.
The strong fine could provoke its disappearance in the event that its application is decided.