Press freedom is thriving and the judiciary, though divided, made two rulings in 2003 that favoured it.
A court decision recognised the right of journalists to criticise private individuals when they took part in public life. Another supported the principle that a defamation suit must not only prove the report was wrong but that the journalist knew that and had malicious intent.
But the judiciary was not entirely united. The weekly Brecha said on 6 March that prosecutor-general Oscar Peri Valdez had asked the country’s public prosecutors in writing to limit their interpretation of press freedom to "truth and the public interest." He said press freedom was a social and "relative" right, not an individual one, and subject to the interests of the state and its quest for "the common good." Some saw this is a reflection of the attitude of the 1973-85 military regime which considered the media should serve "the national interest." But Peri Valdez’ approach was not followed.
A journalist arrested
Alberto Silva, of the radio station 1410 AM Libre, was arrested by police in Montevideo while covering a peaceful march by housing rights activists on 19 January 2003, despite identifying himself as a journalist. He had followed a group of protesters who crossed a police security barrier. About 30 people were detained for several hours.
Two journalists physically attacked
Fernanda Cabrera, of the TV station Canal 10, was physically attacked 27 June 2003 by member of parliament Washington Abdala, of the ruling Colorado-Foro party, who grabbed her arm while she was interviewing him about prosecution of party members. He filed a complaint against the journalist to the station’s management, which backed Cabrera.
Ricardo Gabito Acevedo, a sports reporter with the daily La República and the TV station Tveo Canal 5, was wounded in the leg when a gunman fired at him in front of his home on 22 December and then fled. Investigators said it may have been a warning by local football bosses. The journalist had several times alleged underhand dealings by the firm Tenfield, which controls a major part of the nation’s football through TV rights to the matches.
Harassment and obstruction
Oscar Ubiría, presenter of the programme "Para comenzar a creer" on Radio San Salvador in Dolores (Soriano province), was given a seven-month suspended prison sentence for defamation on 27 February 2003. The suit had been brought by the owners of a hairdressing saloon, Elizabeth Elizondo and Eduardo Izaguirre, who Ubiría had said in December 2002 had not handed all the proceeds of a fashion parade to charity as they had promised. The journalist was cleared on 17 May by an appeal court that said those who willingly took part in public life should expect to be criticised.
Sergio Israel, of the weekly Brecha, was cleared on appeal on 13 June of harming the reputation of Mario Areán, a former private secretary of the mayor of Montevideo, by suggesting he was corrupt. Israel had faced a suspended sentence of between three months and three years in prison. The court said when a matter was of public interest, press freedom was more important than a person’s reputation, which only applied in personal matters. It also said the journalist had no malicious intent.