Chilean journalists reject president’s comments regarding media’s role during dictatorship

Not all media outlets were accomplices to the disinformation campaign that prevailed in Chile during the Pinochet dictatorship, said Marcelo Castillo, president of the Journalists’ Association in Chile, in response to declarations made by President Sebastián Piñera to the foreign press, and previously, to Chilean newspaper La Tecera.

The Chilean president said that, during the dictatorship, “mass media could have done much more to investigate the reality of human rights violations with much more rigor and depth instead of accepting the military government’s official story.”

In an interview with La Tercera, Piñera said that there were many “passive accomplices that knew and didn’t do anything, or didn’t want to know and also didn’t do anything, as well as journalists, who wrote headlines knowing that what was published didn’t correspond with the truth.”

The president “should have made a distinction, because many media sources, such as Cooperativa, Radio Chilena, the magazine Análisis, Apsi, Cause and Fortín Mapocho, managed to break the barriers and tell the truth,” Castillo said.

During the dictatorship, at least 30 journalists who were not accomplices to the regime were killed, like José Carrasco Tapia, editor of the opposition magazine Análisis, who was killed by agents of the regime nearly 27 years ago. Tapia was found with thirteen gunshot wounds next to the Américo Vespucio cemetery.

The dictatorship was looking precisely to silence us, terrorize us, kill us,” said Patricia Collyer, a journalist for Análisis and colleague of ‘Pepe’ Carrasco, whose death “was a brutal blow” for her. From then on, “we did things with fear, but it didn’t paralyze us,” said Collyer to Diario Uchile.

Nevertheless, Castillo pointed out that the Journalists’ Association publicly apologized in 2008. “We didn’t do everything that we should have done as journalists under those circumstances,” Castillo said.

Edmundo Eluchans, president of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile, described Piñera’s statements as “excessive.”

“Criticism towards the judges and the press is well-founded, but a government that arrives by force and eliminates congress has no judges or free press,” Eluchans said.

However, for Lorena Pizarro, president of the Association of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared, “the journalists played a fundamental role” in the dictatorship. “Despite the torture, marginalization and repression, there were media outlets and people in the press that took the risk of uncovering the truth of what was happening in the country, even though they had to pay massive costs, like becoming the targets of persecution and assassinations.”

Sept. 11 marks the 40th anniversary in Chile of the coup d’état, directed by the commander in chief of the army Augusto Pinochet, which deposed left-wing president Salvador Allende. Pinochet established a military regime that lasted 17 years and left a number of more than 40,000 victims, among which 3,000 died and at least 1,000 are still missing to this day.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.