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Chile's new paper risks `opposition' label by printing all the news

Editor Emilio Filippi doesn't like the ``opposition'' label his new newspaper, La Epoca, has been tagged with here. Journalistic professionalism is confused with ``political opposition'' in Chile's authoritarian society, he says. For example, as Chileans waited to see what political tone Pope John Paul II would set for his visit last week, it was big news here when the Pontiff, en route to South America, called Chile's military regime a ``dictatorship.'' But Chileans had to look deep inside the country's five established dailies to find the news - if it appeared at all.

La Epoca, the month-old ``opposition'' paper, the first of its kind allowed since the military took power in 1973, boldly headlined the Pope's quote on the front page.

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It's a risky business ``to print all the news - good or bad,'' says Mr. Filippi, whose journalistic colleagues have been jailed or had their publications closed down when officials didn't approve of what was written.

Risky business or not, there appears to be a lucrative market for a paper like La Epoca in a country hungry for information.

The paper's first-day run of 150,000 copies sold out immediately. The current daily run of 55,000 is snatched up quickly. (The most popular pro-government paper, El Mercurio, has a circulation of 65,000.)

News content of the paper, which Filippi refuses to call political, often is the same as others. But it includes equal space for all political sides - running pictures and stories on the full spectrum of political parties, many of which get no coverage elsewhere. The editorials, he says, reflect his own moderate, liberal beliefs, and a moderate and thoughtful antigovernment stance. The new paper is part of what opposition leaders call a ``little summer'' of hope, in which they include: the unrestricted public gatherings permitted for the Pope's visit; the end of a state of siege in January; and new, though limited, government reforms governing political parties and the return of exiles. But the optimism is tempered by the firm grip Pinochet still maintains and his apparent unwillingness to consider free elections in the face of what he calls a communist-terrorist threat.

The government touts La Epoca's opening as evidence of press freedom, and Filippi certainly appears free to print what others don't. But, says Filippi, ``there is no freedom of press, because we need permission to exist.''

``I'm here because I won a trial,'' he says referring to a two-year battle to win permission to publish the paper. He and co-owner Juan Hamilton, a prominent opposition member, asked for permission to publish in 1984. But not until the Supreme Court ruled in their favor last spring could they begin. The first issue appeared March 11.

``Of course it is progress,'' he says of La Epoca's existence, but the journalistic environment, he says, remains stifling. The government maintains the right to close publications at will, and has often arrested journalists under states of siege. Whether they are overtly pro-Pinochet or not, the other dailies are indebted to government financial institutions and thus forced into self-censorship, journalists at those dailies privately admit.

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Further, Filippi says, the environment has been so strict that many journalists are ``children of the regime ... who don't have experience with a free press.''

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