Physical attacks on journalists are rare but the authorities, especially the police, distrust the media, whose narrow ownership many journalists criticise. A supreme court ruling against the media in April was withdrawn after four days.
The police brutality towards journalists during student demonstrations in 2006 was not repeated in 2007, but the security forces still cling to the some of the old habits of the 1973-90 military dictatorship. The period remains a sensitive subject, as shown by the arrest and beating on 18 August of Argentine freelance TV journalist Benjamín Avila and his Chilean assistant Mario Puerto and soundman Arturo Peraldi. They were covering a demonstration in front of the house of former military officer Héctor Hernán Bustamante Gómez, suspected of ordering the 1973 murder of journalist Leonardo Henrichsen. They were freed after two hours at the insistence of the CDP national journalists institute. Two days later, Avila received death-threats in hospital. Top CDP officials, including human rights expert Ernesto Carmona, received similar threats during the year.
The CDP and the Judicial Press Association protested at restrictions imposed by the supreme court on 26 March on journalists moving around, approaching or disturbing officials on the premises of the country’s courts. The restrictions, opposed by court president Enrique Tapia, was criticised beyond journalistic circles, but could only be removed by the constitutional court. The supreme court climbed down four days later and the measure was dropped. A trivial incident but it showed the great distrust of the judiciary towards the media. Access by journalists to hearings in appeal and other superior courts still depends on the whim of judges.
Chile gets good marks for press freedom in the Americas but suffers from narrow media ownership. “The media allowed under the dictatorship survived with the joint help of the government and the market,” CDP vice-president Francisco Martorell told Reporters Without Borders. “The opposition media under the military regime got government help after the dictatorship ended but hardly benefited from the market at all.”