While freedom of the press is guaranteed by Chile’s constitution and justice system, it is not always respected in practice. Investigative journalism is losing ground, and attacks against reporters are on the rise. Legal proceedings against media outlets and journalists have become a recurring strategy to silence them.
Although the mass media seems to offer a degree of diversity, most of the outlets are owned by the same business groups. The main newspapers are El Mercurio and La Tercera, and the main TV channels are Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN), Mega, ChileVisión and T13. The leading radio stations include Bio Bío, Cooperativa and ADN. Growing calls from the public for more diverse news media have opened a space for alternative media to flourish. But the emerging media outlets have so far suffered from a lack of professionalism and of stable sources of funding and human resources.
The wave of massive demonstrations that began in October 2019 led to unprecedented political change and a new generation of leaders. But a much anticipated constitutional reform was rejected in September 2022. Democratic principles continue to suffer from institutional stagnation, including in the media domain.
The current constitution in Chile, imposed by the civil-military dictatorship in 1980, was somewhat modified during the third government of Concertación (2000–2006). Although the Press Law on Freedom of Opinion and Information and the Exercise of Journalism was adopted in May 2001, the drafting of the new constitution, set for 2023, and a proposal to modify press regulations do not guarantee that the few legal principles left over from the dictatorship and the right to information will be abandoned.
In Chile, the mainstream media are owned by big business groups and possible conflicts of interest in covering certain issues (such as the environment and social issues) have undermined the trust of much of the population. The changes sought by civil society have highlighted the urgent need for a media regulator that promotes the professionalisation of the media, good journalistic practices, greater independence and stronger support for alternative media.
Public and civil society groups manifest a great deal of mistrust towards the mass media
because of the subjectivity of their content, their tendency to ignore some stories and prioritise others, and their tendency to sideline criticism and dissent. While some media outlets and journalists have won a degree of trust, the need for much more media diversity continues to be felt.
The resurgence of massive demonstrations and challenges to the current political model have highlighted the use of violence perpetrated against journalists by the police and military intelligence agencies. Existing laws are not effective in protecting news professionals and, although progress has been made, attacks on journalists and the media remain largely unpunished. Female journalists, in particular, need protection.