Interview with Fabián Werner, Uruguay

Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información

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The Centro de Archivo y Acceso a la Información Pública (CAinfo) is a nonprofit organization that advocates for the right to public information, freedom of expression, and civic engagement in Uruguay. Since its founding in 2008, it has expanded its mission and focus areas, incorporating new lines of advocacy based on the cross-cutting relationship of the previously mentioned issues to the promotion and defense of other human rights. As a member of a community of regional organizations working in similar thematic areas, it engages the Uruguayan national government, as well as the various agencies of the international and regional human rights system.

Fabián Werner

Journalist, researcher, human rights defender.

As a member of civil society, Fabian Werner is currently president of CAinfo and member of the IFEX-ALC network coordinating committee. As a journalist, he currently serves as director of the media outlet Sudestada de Uruguay and is a Reuters correspondent in Montevideo.

Fabián Werner


What is the role of your organization, and what has been your career path in recent years?

I have been a member of CAinfo since 2011 – first as a consultant, then as coordinator for freedom of expression. I have been president of the organization since 2020. As president of the board of directors, I lead the organization with two other team members, journalists Pilar Teijeiro and Carolina Molla. Our work is to establish organizational priorities, supervise projects, and represent CAinfo before fellow organizations, national and international authorities, and the regional coalitions that our organization is a part of.

Broadly speaking, what would you say is the main challenge to freedom of expression in your country?

In recent years, a trend of stigmatization and harassment of journalists by state representatives has arisen, seeking to compromise the credibility of journalism in general. This is visible in public speeches, social media posts, and even in private messages that question coverage, journalistic guidelines, or lines of inquiry during public appearances. This has resulted in an exponential increase in the number of lawsuits (or threats of lawsuits) against journalists and media outlets in the last year, including suits by legislators and members of the government. The main challenge in the coming years will be to foster a climate of dialogue with the country’s public figures to reduce this degree of confrontation and harassment, and to prevent lawsuits against journalists.

Does this challenge extend to the world of journalism? How do journalists in your country experience it?

A number of journalists care about this problem because they have suffered the consequences of these types of attacks, especially those who identify as “opposition” media or are accused of aiming to harm the government. The Asociación de la Prensa Uruguaya, our union of media workers, and different civil society organizations are alarmed. However, journalists in the country might experience this problem very differently depending on their personal situation, work, or even their geographic location. It is a challenge to convey to the entire media community the seriousness of this problem and the need to denounce it.

What resources do citizens have to access public information? What is this like in practice?

In 2008, Uruguay approved Law No. 18.381, which enshrined the right of access to public information, making the country a regional leader in considering it a “fundamental right” for “all people” to enjoy access. However, over the years, it has become very difficult for the exercise of this right to be broadly exercised beyond certain niche groups such as journalists, civil society, trade unions, and political leaders. Most of the population is still unaware that public entities are legally obligated to respond to requests for access to information within a certain period, and that they can face legal consequences upon failure to do so. In training journalists from across the country, CAinfo still find journalists who do not know how to place a request, the legal deadlines for a response, or how to file a judicial request for access to information. In addition, some government entities cling to a restrictive interpretation of the law, imposing illegal obstacles to deny access to information. There have also been regressive reforms to the law, which put into place new restrictions by legal means.

Uruguay's main lesson for the region is the need to maintain progress to prevent setbacks."

What lessons can your national context offer to the regional struggle for freedom of expression? How do you propose to advance the regional struggle?

Uruguay’s main lesson for the region is the need to maintain progress to prevent setbacks. Uruguay was an example of freedom of expression for many years, yet today, even though it continues to have the highest levels of access to information in the region, the country is facing new and complex challenges. The increasing number of trials, the approval of regressive regulations, and the stigmatization of journalists demonstrate that it is necessary to remain vigilant – both from civil society and from the state – to defend these freedoms. It is also fair to say that, despite these problems, Uruguay maintains a vigorous and attentive civil society, with democratic institutions that respect its work.

What do you think is your organization's most important contribution to the Voces del Sur network?

CAinfo shares its experiences in monitoring state compliance with the right of access to public information among our Voces del Sur colleagues. We also share our experience in using this right as a tool to ensure compliance with other rights, support journalistic work, and promote government transparency. Moreover, we contribute our perspective to achieve a more participatory, diverse, and pluralistic network, which leads to higher levels of compliance with the inter-American standards on freedom of expression and other fundamental rights in all member countries.

Published on January 11, 2023.

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