Chile — 04 June 2016


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by Alana Gale

photo “The President of Chile, Verónica Michelle Bachelet Jeria” by Alex Proimos

3rd June 2016. Santiago, Chile. This Tuesday, President Bachelet filed a defamation lawsuit against the magazine Que Pasa. She said what the magazine wrote about a political scandal involving her daughter-in-law was libel and slander.

Caso Caval: The Case Against Bachelet’s Daughter-In-Law

Natalie Compagnon, the president’s daughter-in-law, went to court in late January of this year for the Caso Caval scandal. Compagnon owns 50% of a company called Exportadora y de Gestión Caval Limitada. The company was accused of corruption because its members, in addition to being accused of tax fraud, received a loan to buy and flip industrial property at a huge profit.

In February of 2015, the magazine Que Pasa published an article exposing Compagnon’s involvement in the scandal. The article also claimed that her husband, Bachelet’s eldest son, played a part in the corruption.

The scandal impacted the president’s popularity immediately. Her approval rating fell by 20 points at the end of 2015. BBC Mundo said that the negotiation of millions by Compognon’s company contradicts Bachelet’s insistence that Chile needs to fight against inequality.

Then, on May 26th, Que Pasa wrote another article that revealed a telephone recording of the leader of the scandal, Juan Díaz, claiming that the profits would also benefit President Bachelet herself. It was this article that spurred Bachelet to action.

That was when the president filed suit, saying that the part of her that is a private citizen had the right to do so. The suit is particularly ominous as it asks for jail time, which is allowed under the Chilean Press law.  It is also surprising coming from someone who is both a member of the Socialist Party and was a victim of the military regime.

Que Pasa removed the recording shortly after it was put up because people said the witness in the Caval Case was not credible and knew he was being recorded.

The Lawsuit Against Que Pasa

In response, Bachelet filed the defamation lawsuit. She said that she was using her right to defend herself from lies and injuries that affected her honor. She added that she could not allow people to invent falsehoods against her person.

Although Bachelet says she still supports freedom of the press, Que Pasa argues that she is limiting their liberty of expression. They explained that they only reproduced what was said by someone involved directly in the scandal. Moreover, the information was not secret—it was accessible to the public and was obtained legally by the journalists.

Additionally, the College of Journalism press release pointed out that the government “must understand that representatives of the government are permanently more likely to be scrutinized and matters related to their personal and public lives can be discussed in the media because of their connection to the public interest.”

Jose Miguel Vicanco, from Human Rights Watch, also asserted, “That a chief of state files criminal charges is not consistent with international standards with regards to liberty of expression.”

Freedom of the Press in Chile

Right now, the World Press Freedom Index by Reporters without Borders ranks Chile at 31 out of 180 countries. This ranking is based on evaluation of factors such as pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, among others.

Likewise, the Freedom of the Press 2016 Report for Chile by the Freedom House classifies Chile as “free.”

But this lawsuit by Bachelet could hurt Chile’s world standing with respect to freedom of the press with those annual ratings.

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