A new law that came into force on 4 June 2001 was a big step towards more press freedom in Chile. The measure notably abolished the notorious Article 6b of the internal state security law, under which journalists could be jailed for as long as five years for "insulting" or "defaming" senior state officials. Six people, including three journalists, were prosecuted under Article 6b in early 2001 and 30 people in all had been threatened with punishment under it since the return of democracy in 1990, according to Human Rights Watch. Its repeal allowed journalist Alejandra Matus to return from exile and the ban on her "Black Book of Chilean Justice" to be lifted. All copies of the book were seized in April 1999 when the former president of the supreme court invoked Article 6b to prosecute her.
But the new press law has not eliminated all the repressive parts of the internal state security law and other legislation where freedom of expression is concerned. Although it was not a media issue, the prosecution of businessman Eduardo Yañez before the supreme court at the end of December for "insulting a senior state official" showed the continuing danger. During an interview on the TV station Chilevisión, he had referred to a miscarriage of justice against a woman and called the legal system was "unprincipled, cowardly and corrupt."
New information about a journalist killed before 2001
On 30 July 2001, the supreme court approved the submission to the US authorities of a list of questions for former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (1973-77), drawn up by Judge Juan Guzman Tapia, about the murder of American journalist Charles Horman. The court also approved the sending of another list of questions to the former US ambassador in Chile, Nathaniel Davis. Judge Guzman wants to find out what Kissinger and Davis know about the killing, but by the end of 2001, neither man had responded to the questionnaires. In early June, the supreme court refused the request of Horman’s family to appoint a special judge to look into the death. Judge Guzman also refused the family’s request to interrogate former dictator Augusto Pinochet, against whom the family had lodged a complaint in December 2000. In September, the Council to Defend the State, an independent body defending the state’s interests, also rejected the family’s request to lodge a complaint. Horman was arrested and interrogated on 18 September 1973 and executed the following day on the orders of a senior state intelligence official. His body was dumped in the street to make it look as if he had been killed in a shootout with soldiers. Material published so far suggests that the CIA may have told the Chilean army about leftist sympathies and activities. The Costa Gavras film "Missing" is based on Horman’s murder.
María Eugenia González, of the online newspaper El Mostrador, Gonzalo Mazuela, of the daily La Nación, and Fabio Díaz, correspondent of Televisión Española, were attacked on 31 January 2001, along with their vehicles, by Pinochet supporters outside the former president’s beach home. The media had also come under attack earlier during legal proceedings against Pinochet.
About 50 journalists were pelted with stones and bottles on their way to a press conference on 4 November organised by a woman in the poor Santiago neighbourhood of La Legua. The vehicles of radio stations Cooperativa and Bio Bio and of the daily paper Las Últimas Noticias were damaged. A few days earlier, some local inhabitants had been angered when police sealed off the neighbourhood in a search for drug traffickers.
Pressure and obstruction
Juan Pablo Cárdenas, editor of the online newspaper Primera Linea, which is indirectly controlled by the authorities, was sacked on 10 January 2001 after several articles criticising the government appeared on the site. The government reportedly brought pressure to bear on the paper’s management. Cárdenas, a well-known former opponent of the military dictatorship, had agreed in September 2000 to run the site provided he could express himself there "in a critical and independent manner." He strongly condemned the government’s attitude, deploring the fact that media pluralism was still not accepted in Chile after 10 years of transition from military rule.
A businessman and senator, Francisco Javier Errazuriz, lodged a complaint on 5 February against Enrique Alvarado, managing editor of the daily El Metropolitano, Javier Ignacio Urrutia, editor of its economic section, and Mireya Muñoz, a photographer on the paper, after it had published an investigation that said he was involved in a financial scandal. The senator invoked Article 6b of the internal state security law against the journalists. He said in a letter to the paper’s management that "any proper journalist knows that freedom of the press cannot be used to hide the fact of damaging someone’s reputation." In subsequent weeks, the journalists were questioned by police who wanted to know the sources for their information. On 22 March, a few days before passage of the press law that did away with Article 6b, Errazuriz lodged a new complaint against the journalists for libel. This was rejected by a court but the senator has appealed against the decision.
On 10 April, eight years after it was first proposed, the chamber of deputies approved a "law on freedom of opinion and of journalistic practice," known simply as "the press law." It was enacted on 4 June by President Ricardo Lagos and notably abolished Article 6b of the internal state security law that provided for up to five years imprisonment for "insulting" or "defaming" top state officials, actions it said were "harmful to public order." The new law recognises the right of journalists not to reveal their sources and abolishes the power of military courts to try journalists for "subversion." Penalties remain however for some kinds of defamation and maintenance of Article 30 of the internal state security law allows judges to suspend publications if they have defamed a state official. Also, the new law only recognises as journalists those who have a diploma in journalism.
Alejandra Matus, author of "The Black Book of Chilean Justice," returned to Chile on 14 July, a week after the country’s chief appeals court had cancelled the warrant for her arrest that had been issued under the now-repealed Article 6b of the internal state security law. The ban on her book was lifted on 19 October and charges of "complicity" and "insults" against its publishers, Planeta, were dropped. The book was banned when it came out in April 1999 at the request of the former president of the supreme court, Servando Jordán. Two of the staff of the publishing house were immediately arrested and held for several days. Matus fled to the United States where, in September 1999, she became the first Chilean citizen to win political asylum since the end of the 1973-90 Pinochet dictatorship. The book returned to the shops in the second half of December and Planeta is considering a reprint in 2002. In the book, Matus denounced the "corruption, nepotism and abuse of power" in Chile’s legal system and frequently pointed a finger at Jordán.