RSF criticizes presidential veto that will allow religious outlets in Chile to operate as community media

Journalism organization Reporters Without Borders criticized Chilean President Sebastián Piñera's veto of the Chilean Digital Television Law considering it a "deviation from the idea of pluralism, [one that] favors the economic interests of a few at the cost of real pluralism," said the group's website.

For RSF, the primary organizations affected by the veto (signed on Nov. 15) are community media outlets, to whom the law would have given an allotment of frequency space. Local and regional media were also affected.

The veto came with changes to the law, like the elimination of a clause that excluded media outlets dedicated to religious proselytism from obtaining community media concessions. As a consequence, evangelical groups will now be able to obtain concessions under the title of "community channels."

"This is a disaster for the media outlets worthy of this name [community radio]!" said María Pía Matta, president of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). "As it is now, evangelical groups can call themselves 'community radios' to obtain concessions when they don't have any informative value. This veto is a reversal for pluralism as well as for the statute itself."

Piñera's decision to also veto another clause defining pluralism has also stirred controversy. The clause required media outlets to include content that showed "social, cultural, ethnic, political, religious, sexual, and gender diversity," which had been specifically named when defining "pluralism," reported Chilean newspaper Diario U Chile. Despite Congress' approval of this definition and the Supreme Court's stamp of approval, the government used the veto arguing that the law cannot impose a definition of pluralism because that would constitute meddling in the editorial policy of the media, their website added.

Although Luis Lillo, the spokesman for the Chilean Popular and Community Televisors Network, felt the law never included community radios and that the initiative was "terrible for cultural and social diversity in the country," he said the vetoed definition at least helped somewhat. "Now, we can't even count on that," he said.

For the director of the media observatory FUCATEL, Manuela Gumucio, "with this veto, these few achievements have been erased" in terms of influence of civil society in the media, Radio Tierra said in a statement according to the website Agencia Púlsar.

RSF persisted in its call for the next president -- who will be elected in the second round on December 15 -- to prioritize media regulation reform in their first term.

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.