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“Little Room For Pluralism”: Chile Falls 8 Rungs On World Press Freedom Index

­SANTIAGO – Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released the 2019 World Press Freedom Index last week. In comparison with 2018, Chile has fallen eight rungs and finds itself down at 46th place. According to the index, “the confidentiality of journalists’ sources was often violated in Chile in 2018.”

It is still not going well with press freedom in Chile. For the third year in a row, the country has fallen on the World Press Freedom Index, released annually since 2013 by the independent organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF). Although Chile reached as high as 31st position in 2016, it is now down at 46th position.

According to the report, this is mainly due to the problems journalists encounter covering political corruption and the Mapuche conflict. The report also stresses that “the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is often violated” in Chile.

The RSF concludes in its report that “Chile continues to suffer from corruption and hangovers from the military dictatorship. Pluralism and democratic debate are limited by the concentration of media ownership and the difficulties that community media encounter in ensuring their long-term survival.”

Source: 2019 World Press Freedom Index / RSF

Latin-America Is Doing Worse

It could be worse, though. Apart from Costa Rica (the highest-ranking Latin-American country, in 10th place on the index), nearly all Latin American countries have dropped, something that RSF says is due to the violence against the press that came with the wave of presidential elections Latin-America saw last year.

Central America, especially, proved to be a graveyard for press freedom in 2018. Nicaragua, down 24 places, to  114th, suffered mass protests against president Daniel Ortega, which resulted in a crackdown on independent media. El Salvador fell 15 places and is now ranked 81st, as journalists were attacked and harassed by politicians, just as in Honduras (down 5, to 146th) and Guatemala (at 116th). When it comes to murdered journalists, Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America: last year, at least 10 were killed in Mexico and the country finds itself at 144th place.

Venezuela saw a record in arrests of, and violence against, journalists. It has dropped five positions since last year and landed at 148th place. RSF also fears for Bolivia (down 3 places to 113th); according to the organization, the government of Evo Morales “controls information and manages to censor and silence those who are overly critical.”

https://chiletoday.cl/update-chilean-journalists-imprisoned-in-venezuela-to-be-deported/

The situations in Argentina and Ecuador have also worsened (each dropping 5 places, respectively to 57th and 97th).

Colombia moved up a notch, but this is not much to celebrate because it is still found down at 129th place, as a result of the online and physical attacks journalists suffer in the country.

And then there’s Brazil, the biggest country in South America and led by far-right president Jair Bolsonaro. The country has fallen 3 places to 105th place on the index. In 2018, four journalists were killed in the country and Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign was according to RSF “marked by hate speech, disinformation and violence against journalists.”

Brazil now has its own Maduro – and Chile another problem

What Do Other Indexes Say About Chile?

Back to Chile. Although other organizations for press freedom haven’t released reports on Chile in 2018 yet, Freedom House looked at press freedom in Chile in 2016. Instead of ranking countries, Freedom House monitors if a country has free press. In 2016, the country went from Partly Free to Free, which coincides with 31st place on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by RSF.

In the report, Freedom House states that: “a lack of media diversity, particularly in the print and radio sectors, and the ongoing existence of criminal defamation laws hamper these freedoms somewhat.”

In the report, three key factors for press freedom were analyzed: legal environment, political environment and economic environment. Press laws in Chile suffer from weaknesses, as “press laws and ownership structures originate back during the dictatorship of Pinochet.” Still, the legal environment in Chile gets an 8 out of 30 (0 is very free, 30 is not free).

The economic environment in Chile gets the same note, as the report concentrates on the fact that in Chile “the economic viability of independent media is challenged by the concentration of private ownership and advertising, as well as de facto government support—in the form of state advertising purchases—for a commercial newspaper duopoly. Lack of diversity remains a particular problem in the print sector, in which a significant share of political and policy debate occurs.”

For journalists, it is according to Freedom House mainly the political environment that needs to improve, as “the militarized carabineros police force has been known to target photographers and reporters during street protests.”

Closing of Editorial Televisa in Chile: The end of Condorito?

Defamation In Chile: An Example

Last year, the case of Chilean journalist Javier Ignacio Rebolledo Escobar got a lot of national and international attention from press freedom organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and The Knight Center.

Rebolledo faced a possible prison sentence of up to three years for defamation, after publishing his book “Camaléon: Doble Vida de un Agente Comunista” (Chameleon: Double Life of a Communist Agent). In the book, Rebolledo describes the torture of a woman committed during the dictatorship by DINA-agent Quintana Salazar, currently serving a prison sentence in the Punta Peuco prison for human rights violators. Salazar’s daughter filed a complaint against Rebolledo, even though the Chilean journalist could back his accusations with judicial statements by Salazar himself.

Although the court didn’t see a case of defamation in the book, Salazar’s daughter appealed – an appeal she lost. What attracted the attention from international press organizations, was the fact that Rebolledo had to appear in criminal court. Although the case was dismissed, filing complaints against journalists is a weapon often used to intimidate. Therefore, Rebolledo’s lawyer called for higher standards to protect journalists. But, like the Freedom House report mentioned, so far the press laws from the Pinochet dictatorship haven’t been changed. It remains to be seen what 2019 brings the Chilean press.

Also read:

Editorial: how to cover the ghost of Pinochet

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