Miami (February 9, 2022) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed concern over the Azul FM radio station raid in Uruguay and a court order to seize a journalist who broadcasted audios about an alleged rape case. The organization said these episodes affect press freedom and sources' confidentiality. In addition, it warned about the need to reform a law that allows journalists to be punished with up to two years in prison.
On February 4, police personnel went to the headquarters of radio Azul FM to size recordings of the program La Pecera, hosted by journalist Ignacio Álvarez. The operation was part of the judicial investigation about the audio broadcasting of an alleged case of gang rape against a 30-year-old woman at the end of January in Montevideo. Three people have already been prosecuted.
At the request of prosecutor Mariana Alfaro, Judge Patricia Rodríguez ordered a search of the media outlet and Álvarez's residence and offices, as well as access to the electronic devices and the content of the audiovisual material and communications, to find out the information source and verify the possible violation of Article 92 of the Law on Gender-Based Violence against Women (Law 19,580). This law punishes with six months to two years in prison anyone who "disseminates, discloses, exhibits or transfers to third parties images or recordings of a person with intimate or sexual content, without his or her authorization."
The Attorney General's Office acknowledged that the order to search the radio station and the journalist's house was an "unnecessary" procedure. However, the prosecutor said its action was a "strategic error," and no action was taken against the journalist.
The case shocked the country. It generated public demonstrations in person and social media discussions on journalist ethics and press freedom in a country that, according to the IAPA Chapultepec Index, is an example in the Americas in terms of freedom of expression. The president of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, described the act as "aberrant" and asked the justice system for an "exemplary sanction."
IAPA President Jorge Canahuati said, "Although it is not the task of our organization to judge the editorial criteria of the media and journalists, we must speak out in favor of protecting the right to press freedom and the public's right to be informed without any restrictions.
Canahuati, president of Grupo Opsa, of Honduras, added, "The raid on the radio station to confiscate evidentiary materials represented a disproportionate attitude on the part of the justice system. Journalists are not auxiliaries of the justice system, nor are we prima facie criminals so that we should be subjected to forced measures that disregard the principles of freedom of the press".
Carlos Jornet, chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, considered that "this case represents a violation of the legal and legitimate right to the protection and confidentiality of journalistic sources, a nonsense that entails the risk of intimidating other journalistic sources."
Jornet, journalistic director of the newspaper La Voz del Interior, of Argentina, said, "Uruguay cannot ignore the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights." Article 8 states: "Every social communicator has the right to keep his/her source of information, notes, personal and professional archives confidential."
He emphasized that the concept of protection of sources of information is also addressed by IAPA documents, the Declaration of Chapultepec, and the Declaration of Salta on Principles of Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age.
Canahuati and Jornet considered the social debate on the case productive, which "allows a better understanding of press freedom and its essential value in a democratic society." However, they believe that the judicial proceeding, both in substance and form, showed a dangerous bias that ignores international law and the legal guarantee in Uruguay about the confidentiality of sources, expressly guaranteed for more than three decades.
The IAPA officers also expressed their concern over Law 19.580, which allows journalists to be criminalized for disseminating information. They said that many countries, to strengthen freedom of the press, have eliminated criminal charges against journalists. IAPA officials asked Uruguayan legislators to review the scope of this law when used against the media and journalists.
IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere; and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.