President ratifies press law that repeals “disrespect” statute; CPJ concerned over certain provisions

New York, May 25, 2001 — Chilean president Ricardo Lagos has signed a new law that repeals several provisions of the country’s infamous State Security Law, including one (Article 6b) that made it a crime against public order to insult high officials.

First proposed eight years ago, the new “Law on Freedoms of Opinion and Information and the Practice of Journalism,” known as the “Press Law,” passed the Chamber of Deputies on April 10. The Senate approved the bill on April 18.

After review by the Constitutional Tribunal, President Lagos signed the bill May 18 in a ceremony at La Moneda, the presidential palace.

Although the law represents a major step forward in some areas of Chile’s legal framework for press freedom, it also contains several troubling provisions. Notably, the law limits the definition of who is a journalist to those holding a university degree from a recognized journalism school and to “those whom the law recognizes as such.”

The law establishes a right to the protection of sources, but restricts this right to “recognized” journalists, along with journalism students doing an internship, recent journalism graduates, publishers, editors, and foreign correspondents. The law also specifies that one must have a journalism degree in order to work as a government spokesperson or as a journalist for state entities.

“We are encouraged that the Press Law lifts some of the restrictions that have weighed upon Chilean journalists who report on issues of clear public interest,” said CPJ’s executive director Ann Cooper. “But we are dismayed by the new law’s attempt to create a legal distinction between journalists who may protect their sources and journalists who may not.”

“We urge Chilean lawmakers to create a legal regime in which all journalists may exercise their internationally recognized right to criticize public officials and protect their sources if necessary,” Cooper said.