In this period there were no major violations of press freedom. Independent news media could carry out their role without setbacks or threats and except for sporadic explosions of bad temper on the part of President José Mujica there was no interference in the journalists’ work.
The only cloud during this period arose as a consequence of a debt that the pro-government newspaper La República and its multimedia complex (radio station and television channel) has with UTE, Uruguay’s power company. The debt had been refinanced in September 2010, but there arose a new a situation of non-compliance that was in turn the object of new actions and further refinancing, which could be interpreted as discriminatory given the non-payment of its obligations.
On October 28 the National Broadcasters Association (Andebu) expressed its “concern” at the “proliferation” of initiatives to regulate the media whose application “restricts” freedoms and it urged the authorities to “take steps” to bring into effect the commitment made by the President and Vice President Danilo Astori “to reject any initiative” that “has as its object the restriction of the freedom and independence of the news media.”
On December 18 President Mujica, in response to a request by a reporter asking him about a naval incident in which an Argentine ship harassed a Spanish fishing boat in waters of Uruguayan jurisdiction, chose to dismiss him instead of replying – “Don’t be a prick,” he told him, adding, “OK, go away.”
On February 2, the President criticized the press in his weekly Thursday radio address for the treatment and space that it gives to the ”good” news that “only get some mention in passing, while it harps on those that can be critical news, the more critical the better.”
In early March the power company UTE began cutting off electricity to the so-called Multimedia Plural, a pro-government group that is made up of the newspaper La República, radio station AM Libre and television channel TV Libre for failure to comply with the refinancing agreement signed in September 2010 concerning a figure of close to $300,000. The shutdown was the result of non-payment of an annual fee, the first of five that the initial refinancing included.
Argentine businessman Gustavo Yocca, the new majority shareholder of Multimedio, went to a congressional committee. As well as achieving a mediation, he recorded that UTE did not place enough advertising in his media, one of the ways envisioned to pay off the debt, according to a report by radio station Espectador, which obtained a taping of the committee’s session. The signed agreement did not give rise to any obligation by UTE to buy advertising space in Multimedio, the delay was already generated in the first refinancing phase, which was interpreted as discriminatory treatment compared to the competition (newspaper, radio or television) that meets its obligations.
Governing party member Luis Puig was especially annoyed with Yocca, telling him that UTE has the right and obligation to charge for its services. Puig, a long-time labor union leader, said at the meeting that later there should be a follow-up to solve the delays in payment of labor credits that the group maintains with its workers.
The new episode could be understood better in light of an e-mail that Yocca sent to a senior official of the Argentine presidential palace reproduced by the magazine Caras y Caretas in which it is said that “with a little help from the old man (meaning Mujica) and a little more from the boss (meaning Cristina Fernández) I can move this along.”