|Legal restrictions continue to hamper the press, despite Chile's robust
economy and developing democratic institutions. A panoply of onerous laws
-- many of them promulgated in the 1970s and early 1980s under the dictatorship
of Gen. Augusto Pinochet -- criminalize criticism of public officials, control
television broadcast licenses, and allow military tribunals to try journalists
accused of sedition.
While prosecutions are rare, the threat of legal action hangs over the media.
In January, Rafael Gumucio, host of the news show "Plan Zeta" on Canal 2,
and Paula Coddou, a reporter for Cosas magazine, were jailed
overnight after Gumucio criticized Supreme Court Justice Servando Jordán
in an interview with Coddou. Under provisions of the State Security Law which
criminalize criticism of public officials, Jordán initiated legal
proceedings against José Ale and Fernando Paulsen. The two were formally
indicted during the first week of January 1999.
While journalists acknowledge that the threat of legal action undermines
their ability to work freely, attempts to reform the press law have been
stalled in Congress for nearly five years. A report released in November
by Human Rights Watch entitled7nbsp;The Limits of Tolerance: Freedom of
Expression and the Public Debate in Chile noted that, "at present freedom
of expression and information is restricted in Chile to an extent unmatched
by any other democratic society in the Western hemisphere."
Legal reform is only the first step in creating a more professional and
pluralistic press. Self-censorship and a concentration of media ownership
also limit the diversity of viewpoints available to Chileans. Two media companies
-- both of which have ties to conservative politics -- control nearly all
newspapers in the country (two independent papers, La Epoca
and Hoy, closed in 1998). While the Chilean press gave extensive
coverage to Pinochet's detention in England in November and December, editorials
and opinion pieces reflected the conservative perspectives of the media owners
rather than diverse views about Pinochet suggested by public opinion polls.
The good news is that Chilean journalists have begun to discuss the challenges
facing the press at public forums hosted by universities and public institutions.
During the Summit of the Americas, held in Santiago in March, CPJ co-hosted
a panel discussion titled "Press Freedom and the Consolidation of Democracy
in Latin America." Commenting on a recent study that determined that 85 percent
of television news stories in Chile were based on government sources, television
reporter Alejandro Guillier noted, "I think we [journalists] remain trapped
in a society that is profoundly authoritarian... and encourages hypocrisy
as a mechanism of survival."
| Back to the Top |
Attacks on the Press in 1998
| Search the Press Freedom Database