Report to Midyear Meeting
April 20-23, 2021

On October 25, a plebiscite was held which approved by a large majority (78.27%) the drafting of a new Constitution. The election of the constituent assembly will be held on May 15 and 16.

The discussion on the content of the Constitution has not yet begun, but ideas have already been put forward on the possible regulation of media - such as the recognition of the right to the protection of personal data and the right to one's own image. A group of academics and associations have proposed the "right to communication" as a broader right than those already recognized by the current Constitution - with very similar characteristics to the concept found in the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution.

When the National Congress put off the elections for May 15 and 16 - due to the pandemic - it suspended the television propaganda slot. This caused concern in the media because the Constitution Committee of the Senate prevented radio and television stations from broadcasting anything (participation in debates and interviews) related to candidates to the Constitutional Convention.

In the reform to the Organic Constitutional Law of Popular Voting and Polls, it was proposed to eliminate publications appearing in national and local newspapers - such as the list of candidates - and it was established that such information would be published in the Electoral Service's website. The claims of the press, radio and television associations were welcomed, and narrowly scrapped what would have been a serious restriction on freedom of the press.

The Government established that the media are included within the category of essential services - under the restrictions imposed due to the pandemic. At the request of the ANP, the government included supplementary workers as individuals performing essential functions, and now they may move around without major limitations.

Due to the contraction in the economy, as of March, 2020 to date, a very critical reality has arisen for the media. Several newspaper companies have been forced to make massive layoffs - while some newspapers had to suspend printing and concentrate on digital distribution. Others had to close down permanently.

Since before the social outbreak of October, 2019, the safety of journalistic personnel had already been declining. Since then, despite the fact that public demonstrations have been greatly reduced by the sanitary emergency, violence against journalistic coverage has not diminished. Media professionals have been exposed to violent actions by demonstrators - which has led most of them not to wear their media badges, and capture images from remote locations or from public cameras (CCTV), or simply by using their smart phones.

The exposure to violence is also linked to the conflict in some areas located in central-southern Chile, where aggression by radicalized groups of the Mapuche indigenous people against farmers, logging companies and, in general, any sign of State presence has worsened. On March 27, a team from Televisión Nacional de Chile - made up of a journalist and a cameraman - was first intercepted by a group of Mapuche who questioned them for having interviewed a Mapuche leader whose positions they disagreed with - five minutes later they were attacked with gunfire. Their pickup truck was hit by multiple bullets. Three bullets hit a cameraman from the state channel - who was left in serious condition and lost the sight in one eye as a result.

The prosecutor's office is investigating an alleged espionage operation by the Army Intelligence Directorate (DINE) that would have started in 2017, and affected a group of journalists who in recent years investigated cases of corruption within the military institution - especially journalist Mauricio Weibel. According to what is known about the report, intelligence officials would have intercepted - with judicial authorization - the telephones of journalists, and requested the public records of Weibel and his family members.

The institution points out that the intelligence work it carries out is in accordance with the legal framework, and is subject to the control of civilian authorities; that all is reported to the Special Commission for the Control of the Intelligence System of the Chamber of Deputies, and that it cannot legally refer to these activities in a public way. Sources close to the Army added that the focus of the operation would not have been the journalist, but the source - who was an officer on active duty. Although the facts are still to be clarified by the courts and are generally confidential, the silence of the political authorities is striking - despite the seriousness of the allegations.