New Media Law in the Works for Uruguay

The project aims to promote national production by demanding a 30% minimum air time for local contents.

BUENOS AIRES – Following a recent Latin American trend of strengthening regulation on the media business with anti-trust legislation, Uruguay is now preparing a new media bill to present in Congress next June, according to El Pais newspaper.

The project will divide the radio and TV spectrum by three, distributing one-third to private owners, one for community organizations, and one for the public sector. It’s a similar structure to the law neighbor country Argentina passed in late 2009, which triggered a ferocious opposition by big media conglomerates like Clarin Group, which has disputed the bill in the courts.

The Uruguayan bill is being drafted by the country’s Direction of Telecommunications, led by Sergio De Cola, who stated the government’s idea is to present it in Congress next month.

The Ministry of Culture and Education (MEC) is also involved in the writing. “We must advance on the regulation of content and promotion of local products,” said MEC’s Pablo Alvarez. He added: “We’re going to stress on local contents by giving them a minimum of 30% of screen air.”

The bill will also feature articles regarding audience rights (including the creation of an audience defense office), advertising regulation, a conscience clause for journalists, and the regulation of high-interest events, like the national soccer team’s matches, which will now be broadcasted free of charge.

President Jose Mujica had rejected the possibility of a new media bill in December 2010. He had stated he would “throw in the trash can” any media bill they would bring to him. But last Thursday he recognized to El Pais that “there is a project, yes, but that doesn’t mean we have made a decision.”

In Ecuador, President Rafael Correa is also trying to get Congress to pass a similar law. “We’re trying to democratize information, social communication, and media ownership," he said recently on an interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which aired last week.