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Media Democracy

Why Uruguay?

Silvio Waisbord's picture

Again, Uruguay shows that when civil society intelligently promotes coalition-building and finds sympathetic allies in government, media reform is possible. On June 10, the Congress passed a bill to reform the Penal Code and the Press Law. The new law will abolish libel laws and subject national legislation on communication issues to criteria enforced by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The bill is likely to be approved by the Executive.

This achievement is another landmark of recent efforts towards media democracy in Uruguay. During the past two years, legislation on community broadcasting, access to public information, and national archiving of information was approved. The passing of community broadcasting law in December 2007 represented a major success. The law assigns one-third of radio frequencies to community, non-profit stations. It defines community stations in terms of the nature of their goals (“social mission”) and ownership (“collective properties”) rather in terms of reach or geographical location. It stipulates the existence of the Consejo Honorario Asesor de Radiodifusión Comunitaria, a multi-sectoral committee with significant representation from civil society that oversees the bidding process and monitors the performance of stations to ensure that they meet social goals. The passing of the “freedom of information” law in October 2008, and the elimination of libel and contempt laws are other positive advances. This is encouraging if we consider that, like in the rest of the region, the dominant media system historically conformed with the norm of media policies in Latin America: state patrimonialism and collusion between governments and large business.