Although Uruguay boasts one of Latin America’s most vibrant and diverse media scenes, journalists say its quality has suffered during a three-year economic recession. Many journalists have lost their jobs, while increased competition with foreign publications, a decline in Uruguayans’ buying power, and a decrease in advertising have exacerbated the crisis.
In a country where many publications depend almost entirely on state advertising, a sharp decrease in government advertising budgets has hurt many media outlets. Journalists also remain concerned that state agencies and enterprises continue to withhold advertising from critical media while rewarding media that provide favorable coverage.
The country’s highly secretive banking and tax laws severely hinder coverage of corruption, journalists say. They also contend that media owners’ ties to allegedly corrupt businessmen have suppressed coverage of links between Uruguayan companies and money-laundering schemes run by Argentine businessmen. Many Uruguayans only learned about the allegations by watching Argentine cable channels.
In another telling example, the journalists’ union Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya denounced local TV channel Canal 12 in early September for censoring parts of an Argentine show in which Argentine parliamentary deputy Elisa Carrió exposed alleged money-laundering involving Uruguayan companies.
Journalists also faced court battles for revealing government scandals. On May 30, an appeals court reversed a previous ruling that ordered the weekly Búsqueda to publish a letter by María Olmedo, an official of the General Tax Office (DGI) who took offense at a Búsqueda article denouncing alleged DGI corruption. The appeals court ruled that because the story did not mention any DGI officials by name, the paper was not required to print Olmedo’s letter.
A right-to-information bill remains stalled in the Uruguayan Congress. Introduced in 1998, the law would guarantee the right to access public records kept in government archives and would give preferential treatment to media requests for such information.
Radio broadcasters have long been divided over the issue of community radio stations; currently, more than 20 of them operate without a permit in Uruguay. While commercial stations claim that community stations interfere with their frequencies, community stations argue that they cannot afford to buy frequencies, which are currently granted through auctions. In unprecedented October talks, representatives from both sides met with officials from the URSEC, the country’s telecommunications regulatory agency, for preliminary negotiations on creating a legal framework in which community stations can operate.