Press freedom came under attack from the judiciary in 2003 in the form of court cases, threats of imprisonment and even physical attacks. A law to abolish the offence of "insults" has been delayed.
A physical attack on three journalists by a supreme court justice may have been an isolated incident. The court’s ban on judges talking to the media about ongoing court cases was more worrying, as was another court’s ban (struck down on appeal) on broadcast of a programme criticising a legal decision.
Press freedom was marred in 2003 by prosecution at the end of the year of the privately-owned TV station Chilevisión, which led to the arrest of its chief editor. The station had broadcast film taken with a hidden camera of a judge in charge of a investigating a major child prostitution ring. In the film, the judge admitted he frequented a gay sauna. The prosecution of the five of the station’s managers and journalists (who risk up to five years in prison) may have seemed old-fashioned, yet the supreme court took the judge off the case, suspended him and was considering his expulsion from the bench.
Chilevisión was fined by the national TV council, CNTV, as was the station Canal 13 for showing film said to undermine the dignity of a businessman. Ten of the CNTV’s 11 members are named by the country’s president and the council has the power to cancel broadcasting licences.
The election of Judge Marcos Libedinsky as head of the supreme court on 22 December was not very good news for the media. Shortly afterwards, he said it was not the media’s job to "question and conduct a parallel investigation" to the action of then police and the courts.
Businessman Eduardo Yañez was acquitted in April after being prosecuted for two years for "insulting" the supreme court in statements on television and sentenced to 18 months in prison by a lower court. But the offence of "insults" is still on the books. The constitutional committee of the chamber of deputies has approved a measure abolishing it, but it still has to be passed by the full chamber and by the senate.
New information about a journalist killed before 2003
The fifth division of the Santiago appeals court confirmed on 15 December 2003 that retired air force Lt.Col. Rafael González Verdugo, could be tried for the 1973 murder of US journalist Charles Horman. He was the first person to be changed in the killing and was arrested and held by the air force. He was accused of taking part in the interrogation of Horman at the defence ministry, where the journalist had been taken after being arrested. Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger was called as a witness in the case but refused to respond. Horman was reportedly arrested and interrogated on 18 September 1973 and executed the next evening on the orders of a top intelligence official. His body was dumped in the street to make it look like he had been killed in an exchange of fire with troops. His case was made into a film, "Missing," by director Constantin Costa-Gavras.
A journalist arrested
Alejandro Guillier, chief editor of the privately-owned TV station Chilevisión, was arrested on 11 December 2003 and then freed on bail the next day. He was accused of helping to film a private conversation of Judge Daniel Calvo without his consent and then ordering it to be broadcast on 5 November. Jaime de Aguirre, head of the station, and journalists Patricio Caldichoury, Fernando Reyes and Raúl Poblete were also charged for helping to film it under article 161a of the criminal code which provides up to five years in prison and a fine of 500 tax units (20,000 euros) for recording or filming "private matters in private places." Calvo was heading the investigation of Carlos Spiniak, a businessman suspected of running an extensive child prostitution, child pornography and drug network. The secretly-taken film showed the judge talking in his office with Sebastián Rodríguez, who used to run a gay sauna. The judge admitted he had been a customer of the sauna and did not have the "moral authority" to conduct the investigation. When the station told him on 4 November it had the film, Calvo called a press conference to admit what he had said and resigned as head of the enquiry. He then sued the station for "implicit extortion." The supreme court subsequently took the investigation out of his hands, suspended him for four months and said it would consider sacking him as a judge. The CNTV fined Chilevisión 80 tax units (3,200 euros) on 3 December for broadcasting film undermining the judge’s dignity. It said the station was not being punished for exposing the judge’s private life but for doing so in a humiliating manner.
Three journalists physically attacked
Luís Narváez, of the weekly La Nación Domingo, was punched on 7 January 2003 by supreme court justice Domingo Kokish as he was questioning him about a sensitive matter the court was considering. In September, the judge insulted journalist Ximena Marré and tried to slap Mario Ovalle, both of the daily El Mercurio. He then threw them out of the room when Marre refused to reveal her sources of information. Kokish had summoned them to ask about an article that appeared in the paper. He later apologised.
Harassment and obstruction
The supreme court on 4 August 2003 banned judges from talking to the media about ongoing cases and said they would be punished if they did.
The fifth division of the Santiago appeals court dismissed on 1 October the attempt by the widow of lawyer Patricio Torres Reyes to ban the broadcast of a documentary ("Enigma") about her husband’s murder which she said undermined to dignity and honour of the family. The first planned broadcast of it on 23 July by the station TVN had been banned by the court. Its producer, Patricio Polanco, said the film, which questioned the guilt of one of those accused of the murder, had not been seen by the widow, her lawyers or the judges in the case.
Police detectives seized five videotapes at the privately-owned TV station Chilevisión on 28 November as part of a case brought by the health ministry and the National Health Fund against a doctor, Maria Luisa Cordero. The station, which had shown a report on 11 August about the doctor issuing medical absence notes in exchange for money, protested that the seizure was a violation of the confidentiality of sources because not all the film on the videotapes had been used in the broadcast programme. The station said it had later received from legal officials the guarantees necessary to defend its interests and professional principles..
The CNTV fined the Catholic TV station Canal 13 60 tax units (2,400 euros) on 3 December for showing film of businessman Carlos Spiniak in a "humiliating" situation as he was being arrested in his bedroom on suspicion of running a child prostitution, child pornography and drug network, in which politicians and police were also thought to be involved.