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 areas of intervention, incorporating new lines of work based on the mainstreaming of the aforementioned issues related to the promotion and defense of other human rights. Within the framework of the regional community of organizations working in the same areas of intervention is articulated with the national government and the different agencies and offices, of both the universal and regional human rights systems.

Fabián Werner

Journalist, researcher, human rights defender.

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

Fabián Werner

Q&A

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, and president since 2020. As president of the board of directors, I lead the organization with two other team members, journalists Pilar Teijeiro and Carolina Molla. We establish the organization’s priorities, supervise projects, and represent CAinfo during events with other groups. the national and international authorities, and in the networks and regional alliances we are 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 spokespeople and representatives has emerged, trying to affect the credibility of journalistic activity. This has become evident in some public speeches, social media posts, and even in private messages to question content, journalistic guidelines, or questions during public appearances. These practices have resulted in an exponential increase in the number of lawsuits (or threats of lawsuits) against journalists and media outlets in the last year, including by legislators or members of the government. The main challenge for the coming years is to foster an atmosphere of dialogue with the country’s public figures to reduce these levels of confrontation and harassment and prevent lawsuits.

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

There are journalists who are concerned about the 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, which is the union of media workers, and different civil society organizations are concerned. However, journalists in the country experience it very differently depending on their personal situation, work, or even their location in the territory. It is a challenge to convey to the whole collective the seriousness of the problem and the need to work to denounce it.

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

Uruguay approved in 2008 Law No. 18.381, which enshrined the right of access to public information, which put the country at the forefront in the region because it considers it a “fundamental right” that “all people” can access. However, over the years it has become very difficult for the exercise of the right to transcend beyond certain groups like journalists, civil society, trade unions, and political leaders. Most of the population is still unaware that public bodies are obliged to respond to requests for access to information within a certain period, and that if they do not do so, it is possible to resort to justice. CAinfo trains journalists from all over the country, and we still find journalists who do not know how to place a request, the legal deadlines for response, or how to file an action for access to information before the courts. In addition, some bodies maintain a restrictive interpretation of the law, imposing illegal obstacles to deny access, and there have also been regressive reforms to the law, which enshrine 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 and, today, though it continues to have the highest levels in the region, is experiencing new and more complex realities. The increasing number of trials, the approval of regressive regulations, and the stigmatization of journalists shows how it is necessary to be vigilant – both from civil society and from the state – to defend these freedoms. It is also fair to say that, despite these problems, the country maintains a vigorous and attentive civil society, with democratic institutions that respect its activity.

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

CAinfo shares its experience in monitoring the state’s compliance with guaranteeing the right of access to public information with our Voces del Sur colleagues, as well as how to use this tool for compliance with other rights, underpin journalistic work, and promote government transparency. We also contribute our vision on regional collaboration to establish a more participatory, diverse, and pluralistic network, which leads to better compliance with the inter-American standards on freedom of expression and other fundamental rights in all member countries.

Published on October 24, 2022.

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