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Direct attacks against the press are rare east of the River Plate. Uruguay stands out as exception on a continent with very marked media polarisation. The country passed pioneering legislation on community media in 2007, then in 2008 a law on access to public information. In both cases, the elaboration of these laws was entrusted to an ad hoc working group made up the administration, civil society and representatives of the profession, before their vote in Congress and promulgation by the president. The same system was used to draw up a major draft law to reform the current press legislation and the criminal code. In line with the constitution and the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights, these amendments related to abolition of the crime of “offence” as well as the decriminalisation of “defamation” and “insult”, except in the case of a deliberate threat to private life and “insulting patriotic symbols”. These reforms, which were backed by President Tabare Vazquez and approved by the council of ministers in October 2008, were adopted by Congress. Despite this encouraging new landscape, the country has not closed its account with the past, in particular with the military dictatorship (1973-1985). An amnesty law, approved by referendum after the return to democracy, that wiped the slate clean in most murder cases, prompted a new debate and trials of soldiers have now started to open. However access to public information under the new law continues to come up against refusals by soldiers to open the archives and journalists have been threatened. Coverage of other sensitive issues such as corruption or abuses by security forces also put journalists’ safety at risk.
Uruguay - 12 December 2013