The Uruguayan lower house of Congress has passed a new Audiovisual Communication Services Law, by 50 votes out of 75.
The bill was backed by all the deputies of the governing Frente Amplio, and rejected by the opposition. The executive now has 120 days to implement it.
The new Media Law seeks to regulate radio, television, and other audiovisual media services to “avoid or limit the existence and formation of monopolies and oligopolies in audiovisual communication services, as well as to establish mechanisms to control it.” It also establishes limits to foreign media ownership.
The law has been praised by former UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, Frank La Rue, who considered that “it democratises audiovisual media and facilitates freedom of expression.”
The law “must never be considered a gag, or an impediment to political expressions,” said La Rue on a visit to Uruguay last year. “One may argue about whether to regulate more or less, but they’re legitimate regulations, which exist everywhere in the world. It’s bad to bring the debate to an excessive degree of polarisation. We must be measured and we must not confuse freedom of expression with commercial freedom.”
The opposition has rejected the law on the basis that “it affects freedom of expression” and “affects private [actors] in order to benefit the state.”
The bill had been passed by the House of Representatives in late 2013, however the Senate introduced changes to it before approving it last week, and it had to be voted on again.