Chile/ 4.2 Recent policy issues and debates  

4.2.6 Media pluralism and content diversity

Media pluralism and the diversity of contents have a complex position in Chile nowadays. The Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile Article 19, Number 12 guarantees the freedom to issue opinions and inform, without prior censorship, in any way and by any means, without prejudice to respond for crime and abuse committed in the exercise of these freedoms; likewise, it prevents state monopoly on social communication; whilst Article 19, Number 6 guarantees the freedom of consciousness, the manifestation of all beliefs, and the free practice of all religions (National Congress of Chile, 2005). Notwithstanding the above, the original text of our Constitution was drafted in the year 1980, at the height of the military dictatorship, without citizen participation or legitimate constituent processes, and in a context of censorship and repression of the media and artistic manifestations, such as the murder of journalist José Carrasco Tapia in 1986. It is necessary to note, in any case, that the constitutional reform carried out in 2005, already in a stage of formal democracy, does not establish substantial amendments to this article.

It can be said that media pluralism in Chile is first and foremost conceived as political pluralism, manifesting in the first laws passed during the 90s, aimed at guaranteeing the manifestation of political positions in the period of formal return to democracy; and secondly as citizen pluralism, by the mid 2000s, in which the instruments of support would eventually allow the progressive incorporation of local content to the media. Some relevant points are examined below.

In 1982, Law No. 19.168, General Law of Telecommunications (National Congress of Chile, 1982) was promulgated. Its 2nd Article states that all the inhabitants of the Republic shall have free and equal access to telecommunications and any person may opt for concessions and permissions in the way and conditions determined by law, contemplating services of telecommunications of free reception, public services for the needs of the community, limited services of private nature, and intermediate communications services, in addition to the services of radio communications enthusiasts at a personal and not-for-profit level. This legislation covers all television broadcasting as well as radio broadcasting.

The administration of public policy on matters of telecommunications corresponds to the Subsecretariat of Telecommunications of the Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications, created in 1977 by Decree Law No. 1.762 (National Congress of Chile, 1977), and whose mission is to promote equal access to telecommunications, reducing the digital gap by granting subsidies, concessions and permissions, deepening market competition, updating the normative framework of the sector and reformulating institutional structure to ensure the due protection of users, under the principles of a Subsidising State, facilitating equal opportunities and the increase of quality of life for the inhabitants of the country.

The Fund for Telecommunications Development was established in 1994 with the aim of promoting the increase of coverage of telecommunications services, preferably in rural areas and low-income urban areas (National Congress of Chile, 1994). The Fund was formally created in 2011 through Law No. 20.522 (National Congress of Chile, 2011) and is ruled by the Fund for Telecommunications Development Regulation.

One organisation that is greatly relevant for the development of the media in the country is the National Television Council (CNTV), created in 1970 through Law No. 17.377, endorsed by the Political Constitution of the Republic in 1980, and regulated by Law No. 18.838 of 1989 (National Congress of Chile, 1989b), itself amended by Law No. 19.131 of 1992 (National Congress of Chile, 1992). CNTV is a public autonomous and decentralised service in charge of ensuring the correct functioning of television services, supervising the content of the transmissions under the principles of respect for moral and cultural values of the Nation, the dignity of people, the protection of the family, pluralism, democracy, peace, protection of the environment, and the spiritual and intellectual education of children and young people.

The functions of the CNTV include the following:

-        To promote, finance or subsidise the production, transmission or dissemination of programmes with a high cultural content or of national or regional interest.

-        To support and deliver research on the effects of television broadcasting on the inhabitants of the country.

-        To grant, renovate or modify the concessions of free reception television broadcasting services.

-        To regulate, within the exercise of its capacities, the transmission and reception of satellite television.

-        To apply the corresponding sanctions to the licensees of television broadcasting and of services limited to television, in application of this law.

-        To establish that the licensees must broadcast an hour per week of cultural programmes, meaning those dedicated to the arts or sciences. These transmissions must take place at peak viewing times, leaving the specific day and time to the criteria of each licensee.

In addition to promoting the transmission of cultural content, the Council establishes mechanisms to avoid the transmission of programmes containing excessive violence, gruesomeness, pornography or participation of children or adolescents in acts that go against public morals or good conduct. Some of the main programmes of CNTV include the CNTV Fund, which supports the creation and promotion of national audiovisual content; and the Antennas Fund, aimed at the production, transmission and dissemination of television contents in borderland, extreme or remote areas of the national territory without public or commercial coverage.

As for political pluralism and in a similar fashion to the conformation of the CNCA, the National Television Council is composed of eleven members proposed by the President of the Republic, ratified by the Senate, taking care of pluralism in the conformation of the organisation. Likewise, on the issue of contents, Article 14 of Law No. 18.838 establishes that the National Television Council must adopt measures to ensure the respect of the principle of pluralism in programmes of opinion and political debate broadcast by television channels, especially during election periods.

An important platform for the application of the current normative principles is the broadcaster National Television of Chile (TVN). Created in 1969 and with a normative in place since 1970 which stipulates that it is administrated by the state (through Law No. 17.377), in the year 1992 its function was reformulated with Law No. 19.132 (National Congress of Chile, 1992b) and Law No. 20.693 (National Congress of Chile, 2013). The current legislation defines TVN as a legal entity governed by public law and an autonomous enterprise of the State, whose objective is to establish, operate and exploit services of television and production, broadcasting and transmission of audiovisual and broadcasting content, able to act as a licensee of telecommunication services, with equal rights, obligations and limitations. In relation to media diversity, Article 3 of Law No. 19.132 establishes that pluralism and objectivity must manifest throughout the programming of TVN, especially in the news, programmes of analysis or public debate. The composition of the Directory of TVN is another area in which plurality, in terms of political representation, is safeguarded by the Law.

Despite the above, a recent study by the National Television Council (CNTV, 2013a) indicates that the Chilean population perceives a small amount of national television channels and the scarce diversity of its contents, which also respond to specific ideological, religious and financial interests, limit their pluralism compared to other media such as radio. Even in the case of public television (TVN) it is possible to detect a low television pluralism, especially in the central news broadcaster, since the most covered subjects are football and police cases, overshadowing other areas such as culture, heritage and regional affairs (CNTV, 2013b); a problem that is continuously diagnosed in the national channel (Library of the National Congress of Chile, 2004).

It is important to note the existence of a bill that allows the Introduction of the Terrestrial Digital Television (National Congress of Chile, 2008), which is already in the last legislative stages for its promulgation and publication. The bill consists of an amendment to Law No. 18.838, which creates the CNTV and regulates television activity in general; and among its indications of greatest relevance with regards to media plurality, the following are included:

-        Reformulation of the concept of pluralism, modifying the structure of CNTV and its attributions.

-        Opening, through public tenders, of new frequencies for national, regional, local and community channels.

-        Creation of a new range of subsidies for the development of cultural and educational content, the formation of new channels and the rental of means of transmission.

-        Broadening the mandatory hours of cultural programming for open and subscription channels.

-        Regulating the concentration of the radio spectrum in television, providing channels that may only have signal at the local level; with the exception of TVN, which may have a second signal of local content and may carry small channels without their own network.

-        Dedicating the principle of no charge for free reception television signal, forcing the licensees to bid the signals they do not use to third parties without their own means.

An important landmark in terms of the plurality of content in the media is in relation to the amendment to the Political Constitution of the Republic of Chile through Law No. 19.742 of 2001 (National Congress of Chile, 2001), in which a system of cinematography rating is created in Chile that abolishes at last an unfortunate power to censor audiovisual and artistic creation in the country, which was created during the dictatorship.

In terms of audio broadcasting, a fundamental landmark for the guarantee of media pluralism is the recognition of citizen community broadcasting services, known as community radio, through Law No. 20.433 (National Congress of Chile, 2010c). Community radio serves an area of a municipality or group of municipalities, with a radio spectrum specific to them in each region of the country, also providing benefits in the case of signals that promote the identities of indigenous peoples. The beneficiaries of this Law include:

-        Unions and workers’ organisations.

-        Neighbours’ associations and community organisations.

-        Trade associations.

-        Indigenous communities and associations.

-        Farming communities.

-        Consumer communal organisations.

-        Not-for-profit organisations registered in the National Disability Registry.

-        Not-for-profit organisations for the elderly.

-        Sports organisations.

-        Groups of women or individuals of the same gender, for the defence of their sexual and reproductive rights.

Lastly, it is necessary to mention the activity of the Council for the Promotion of National Music, which through the Fund for the Promotion of National Music, administrates a line of Mass Communication Media, whose Promotion and Dissemination of Media and Incentive for Radio Media programmesgive funding for the presence of national music in the radio spectrum both at the level of promotion and in the conformation of programme slots that contemplate an important percentage of national content.

Chapter published: 28-12-2013