Reporters Without Borders expressed concern that the Supreme Court may have set a dangerous precedent by sentencing former journalist Carlos Dogliani, on the now closed El Regional in Paysandú, western Uruguay to a five-month suspended prison sentence for “defaming” the town mayor.
The 18 September 2006 ruling against Dogliani, who in 2004 published a series of articles criticising Paysandú mayor Alvaro Lamas for allowing a dubious tax break, overturned the journalist's successful 2005 appeal.
“This decision flies in the face of legislative reform in favour of free expression in most countries on the American continent,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “It directly opposes the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of human rights, which decriminalised defamation in a 2004 decision.”
“The Uruguayan Supreme Court is in fact reversing its own decision by today favouring the protection of honour over freedom of expression, when it ruled the opposite nine years ago. We fear that the argument of 'harming honour' will result in abuse of journalists and prompt self-censorship within the press, particularly when elected officials are involved,” said Reporters Without Borders.
Dogliani had drawn attention in a series of articles written in 2004 to the mayor's decision to exempt an individual from paying tax in a 300,000-dollar property investment case.
In March 2004, the mayor sued the journalist and he was sentenced to five months in prison suspended for “defamation”. Dogliani successfully appealed in 2005.
The Supreme Court's 18 September ruling revokes the appeal decision and confirms the sentence against the journalist, with the suspension.
In its grounds for the decision, the Uruguayan Press Association (APU) stressed, the court considered “little importance should be attached to the truth of the alleged facts”. The court relied on an earlier decision it gave in 1992 that prioritised honour over freedom of expression.
In doing so, the court ignored another decision given since, in 1997, according to which political officials should tolerate criticism and that freedom of expression should prevail over honour when the information was in the public interest.