The “Switzerland of Latin America” still scores highly in the continent’s press freedom rankings. The country has even pioneered a law on community media that involves the authorities and civil society in assigning frequencies. An example to watch.
Being a journalist in Uruguay is rewarding as direct attacks on the media are very rare. Journalists have problems, though, investigating the 1973-85 military dictatorship or, sometimes, getting access to official information. But the extreme media polarisation seen in the rest of the continent is absent. The only instance of serious aggression or threats in 2007 involved the editor of the weekly Señal de abierta, César Casavieja, who published in August 2006 a photo of a suspected maritime drug-trafficker, Amir Alial González (“El Turco”). Casavieja and his family have been the target of repeated death-threats since then and Alial González attacked him in a Montevideo street on 16 March 2007, when three police officers who came to his help (while letting the attacker go) handcuffed him for allegedly assaulting them. The police report did not match what actually happened.
2007 saw the landmark passage of a law to encourage and support small community radio (and some TV) stations that operate without legal frequencies. The government worked with civil society groups throughout. The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), the Uruguayan Press Association (APU) and the PIT-CNT labour federation drafted the law, which was sent to parliament in October 2005, with the final version approved on 12 December 2007.
It reserves a third of all available frequencies for community media, which it defines as “services of public interest, independent of the state, provided by non-profit civil society organisations” that do not indulge in political or religious proselytism.
The law sets up an honorary consultative council of representatives of the government, state and private universities and concerned media to assign frequencies in an “open, transparent and public” manner instead of just by government decision. However there are not enough frequencies for all the estimated 200 community media outlets.