Attacks on the Press

Attacks on the Press 2003: Chile

In 2003, the Chilean press reported extensively on human rights abuses during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship and played a positive role in uncovering local corruption. Still, legal restrictions continued to hamper the press.

As 2003 came to a close, President Ricardo Lagos' bill to amend several articles of the Penal Code and the Code of Military Justice, which make it a criminal offense to insult the "honor or dignity" of public officials, was approved by the lower house of Congress. The deputies, however, made their approval conditional on the discussion of a privacy bill that would allow civil and criminal charges to be brought against journalists who invade the privacy of a public or private figure and his or her family. The Chilean press called the privacy legislation, which the Senate was considering at year's end, a serious setback for freedom of expression in Chile.

The threat to press freedom posed by many of Chile's archaic laws was illustrated on April 2, when the Appeals Court in the capital, Santiago, overturned TV commentator Eduardo Yáñez's January 31 conviction on "disrespect" charges. The conviction stemmed from a November 2001 program on Chilevisión's debate show "El Termómetro," during which Yáñez described the Chilean judiciary as "immoral, cowardly, and corrupt" for not providing compensation to a woman who had been imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. The Chilean Supreme Court then filed a criminal complaint against Yáñez.

On September 3, Supreme Court Judge Domingo Kokisch summoned reporter Ximena Marré and Editor Mario Ovalle, both of the Santiago-based daily El Mercurio, to clarify information published in the paper about the theft of classified financial data. According to the journalists, Kokisch repeatedly hit his desk while talking to them and demanded that Marré reveal her sources. After Marré refused, the magistrate threw both of them out of his office. As they were leaving, Kokisch pushed and attempted to punch Ovalle. Soon after, the magistrate expressed regret and apologized to the daily's director. Later that week, the local press reported that in January, Kokisch had also allegedly attacked journalist Luis Narváez, of the daily La Nación.

In a decision that sparked debate in the local media, the entire editorial staff of the Sunday edition of La Nación resigned on May 24 to protest the paper's refusal to run a story by investigative journalist Alejandra Matus about alleged corruption involving the government's Institute of Agricultural and Livestock Development (INDAP). The news staff claimed that the state-run paper's management succumbed to political pressure and censored the article.

La Nación published the article a few days later. The paper's director, Alberto Luengo, justified the delay by saying the paper needed to give INDAP an opportunity to respond. (INDAP never responded.) On August 14, the staff members who had resigned, including Matus, launched the independent biweekly tabloid Plan B, which started with a circulation of 3,000 and was selling 20,000 copies per issue at year's end.

The 30th anniversary of the military coup that led to the suicide of President Salvador Allende was widely covered in the Chilean press, and journalists reported freely about the abuses of the 17-year Pinochet regime. The September arrest of Santiago businessman Claudio Spiniak on pedophilia charges spawned reports that high-level politicians have had sexual encounters with minors. Members of the rightist Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party chastised the press for excessive reporting on the pedophilia charges, which they said were rumors and part of a press conspiracy intended to spoil UDI candidate Santiago Mayor Joaquín Lavín's bid for the presidency in 2005.

On December 10, retired security officer Rafael González was indicted in the slaying of U.S. journalist Charles Horman, whose execution in the early days of the Pinochet regime became the basis of the film "Missing." González is the first person formally charged in Horman's murder. González's defense attorneys appealed the indictment, which a Chilean Appeals Court upheld on December 15. According to Sergio Corvalán, the attorney for Horman's widow, other indictments are expected to follow.

IN 2003, THE CHILEAN PRESS REPORTED EXTENSIVELY on human rights abuses during Gen. Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship and played a positive role in uncovering local corruption. Still, legal restrictions continued to hamper the press.

As 2003 came to a close, President Ricardo Lagos' bill to amend several articles of the Penal Code and the Code of Military Justice, which make it a criminal offense to insult the "honor or dignity" of public officials, was approved by the lower house of Congress. The deputies, however, made their approval conditional on the discussion of a privacy bill that would allow civil and criminal charges to be brought against journalists who invade the privacy of a public or private figure and his or her family. The Chilean press called the privacy legislation, which the Senate was considering at year's end, a serious setback for freedom of expression in Chile.

The threat to press freedom posed by many of Chile's archaic laws was illustrated on April 2, when the Appeals Court in the capital, Santiago, overturned TV commentator Eduardo Yáñez's January 31 conviction on "disrespect" charges. The conviction stemmed from a November 2001 program on Chilevisión's debate show "El Termómetro," during which Yáñez described the Chilean judiciary as "immoral, cowardly, and corrupt" for not providing compensation to a woman who had been imprisoned for a crime she did not commit. The Chilean Supreme Court then filed a criminal complaint against Yáñez.

On September 3, Supreme Court Judge Domingo Kokisch summoned reporter Ximena Marré and Editor Mario Ovalle, both of the Santiago-based daily El Mercurio, to clarify information published in the paper about the theft of classified financial data. According to the journalists, Kokisch repeatedly hit his desk while talking to them and demanded that Marré reveal her sources. After Marré refused, the magistrate threw both of them out of his office. As they were leaving, Kokisch pushed and attempted to punch Ovalle. Soon after, the magistrate expressed regret and apologized to the daily's director. Later that week, the local press reported that in January, Kokisch had also allegedly attacked journalist Luis Narváez, of the daily La Nación.

In a decision that sparked debate in the local media, the entire editorial staff of the Sunday edition of La Nación resigned on May 24 to protest the paper's refusal to run a story by investigative journalist Alejandra Matus about alleged corruption involving the government's Institute of Agricultural and Livestock Development (INDAP). The news staff claimed that the state-run paper's management succumbed to political pressure and censored the article.

La Nación published the article a few days later. The paper's director, Alberto Luengo, justified the delay by saying the paper needed to give INDAP an opportunity to respond. (INDAP never responded.) On August 14, the staff members who had resigned, including Matus, launched the independent biweekly tabloid Plan B, which started with a circulation of 3,000 and was selling 20,000 copies per issue at year's end.

The 30th anniversary of the military coup that led to the suicide of President Salvador Allende was widely covered in the Chilean press, and journalists reported freely about the abuses of the 17-year Pinochet regime. The September arrest of Santiago businessman Claudio Spiniak on pedophilia charges spawned reports that high-level politicians have had sexual encounters with minors. Members of the rightist Independent Democratic Union (UDI) party chastised the press for excessive reporting on the pedophilia charges, which they said were rumors and part of a press conspiracy intended to spoil UDI candidate Santiago Mayor Joaquín Lavín's bid for the presidency in 2005.

On December 10, retired security officer Rafael González was indicted in the slaying of U.S. journalist Charles Horman, whose execution in the early days of the Pinochet regime became the basis of the film "Missing." González is the first person formally charged in Horman's murder. González's defense attorneys appealed the indictment, which a Chilean Appeals Court upheld on December 15. According to Sergio Corvalán, the attorney for Horman's widow, other indictments are expected to follow.

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