The Draft Law on Audiovisual Communication Services (LSCA) of Uruguay, to which the Chamber of Deputies, gave half approval in December, was sent for study to the Senate, where it must be submitted to the Plenary for final consideration. According to public states of deputies from the government party, the draft will become law before the first half of the year is over.
The Draft Law regulates the administration and democratic access to radio spectrum under competitive and non-discriminatory processes; establishes the existence of three balanced communication sectors (commercial, public, and social-communitarian); regulates the rights of people on communication; defines a new regulation for the public sector, and states that media public and private monopolies are detrimental to democracy.
But beside these improvements, there are still doubts on one substantive aspect: the lack of definition of the organ that will control the compliance of the LSCA.
Throughout debate in the Chamber of Deputies an agreement was achieved in the ruling party to create the Audiovisual Communications Council (CCA) as the body for the implementation and control of the law. This was done under some characteristics that convinced international observers like the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression. The CCA had been granted institutional autonomy and a designation mechanism for four of five members of the Board, which ensured the independence of the majority of the organ. However, doubts on a possible unconstitutionality arose in the days prior to the approval, since legislators observed that the Constitution forbids the creation of new public positions twelve months before the elections (229th Article).
Meanwhile, the Council’s competences were assigned to the Regulatory Unit of Communication Services (URSEC), the current regulating body on telecommunications, whose board is designated by the Executive Power and which has been criticized throughout history for its lack of implementation of human rights standards in the regulation of radio spectrum.
In a statement agreed after the half approval of the Draft LSCA, the Coalition for Democratic Communication —made up of civil society organizations— reminded the public that “the report of the Technical Consultative Council (CTC) that developed the foundation of the law left proof of the consensus among communication actors on the need of creating an autonomous and independent body specialized on freedom of expression and media regulation”, and that “these sides cannot be verified in the URSEC institution”.
Nevertheless, the Executive Power of Uruguay and some senators of the ruling party pointed out their intention to find a solution for this constitutional obstacle and to ensure the creation of an implementation body like the one agreed in the beginning.
The Draft Law includes a series of tools to promote media pluralism and diversity, and a number of guarantees to protect the rights of the audience.
It establishes the creation of an Ombudsman of the Audience, responsible for the control of the compliance of several dispositions of the future law. It dedicates a whole chapter to establishing regulations to prevent concentration on the control and ownership of the media. The concept of “economic group” is included to prevent the monopoly of frequencies.
The schedule of minor protection is regulated even in paid cable TV. This affects the broadcasting of violent images, pornography, and apology for drug use, among other contents. The only exception, introduced during the legislative debate, is on newscasts. The transmission of violent images is allowed whenever they are related to current public affaires and only after prior warning preventing adults of the need to protect children.
Even though the Draft LSCA approved by the Deputies met some resistance from the entrepreneur sector and the opposition parties, its approval was welcomed by international organisms specialized on the protection on freedom of expression and other regional and global actors as a positive step.
A Participative Process
The discussion process on media regulation in Uruguay has been pointed out as a possible model for the discussion on audiovisual media regulation in Latin America and the Caribbean. The path started at the end of 2011 with the call for a Technical Consultative Committee (CTC) to discuss and suggest the foundations of a future LSCA. The committee was made up of around 20 experts related to several communication actors (media owners, civil society, the academy, the State). This committee issued a final report that set the basis for the LSCA, making a record of the subjects on which there was consensus and those on which there was discrepancies.
After this process, a Draft Law elaborated by the Executive Power on the basis of the final report was delivered to the Parliament. Once there, a debate that involved all the actors concerned began. More than 40 delegations marched before the Chamber of Deputies’ Industry Commission.
Edison Lanza. Member of the Coalition for Democratic Communication and Professor in the Faculty of Information and Communication of the University of the Republic (Uruguay).