Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite attempts at reform, political tensions and President Evo Morales’s extreme antimedia rhetoric continued to create a hostile environment for Bolivian media. While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, the current penal code allows journalists to be jailed for one month to two years if found guilty of slandering, insulting, or defaming public officials. A proposed new constitution that was set for approval by referendum in January 2009 would expand some economic, social, and cultural rights but contains an ambiguous clause requiring “veracity and responsibility” in journalism. Public Defender Waldo Albarracin had asked a congressional committee to modify the clause, and press organizations have warned that it could lead to unlawful prosecutions of journalists.
Bolivia’s journalists continued to face the challenge of reporting on their country’s volatile politics. President Morales repeatedly criticized opposition media outlets during 2008, contributing to a permissive atmosphere for attacks against the press. He has stated that the press has “no dignity” and that he “did not need the media to report” on his administration. Top state officials routinely denounced opposition news outlets as “corrupt liars” in the employ of the country’s traditional elite, or as agents of hostile foreign governments. The president argued that 90 percent of Bolivia’s private media were opposed to change and against the primarily indigenous majority.
Members of the independent media complained of discriminatory access, news-gathering barriers, and favoritism toward state-run news agencies. The National Press Association (ANP) counted at least 245 cases of aggression against reporters and media workers. One journalist died during 2008, marking the first such death under the Morales administration. In March, Carlos Quispe Quispe, a broadcaster at Radio Municipal in Pucarani, was beaten to death by government supporters after they stormed the city’s municipal building. Between August 15 and 19, nearly a dozen journalists were attacked at various locations across Santa Cruz. In October, authorities arrested television anchorman Jorge Melgar for allegedly inciting riots against Morales in the town of Riberalta. The broadcaster claimed that he was simply covering a news event. In the city of Cochabamba, mobs injured eight correspondents from state and private news networks. When not physically assaulted, journalists were harassed or verbally abused. The ANP called 2008 “the worst year for press and freedom of expression” since the return of democracy in 1982.Bolivia has eight national and numerous local newspapers, most of which are privately owned. Ownership is reportedly highly concentrated. The television industry is privately owned except for one government-run network. Broadcast outlets express a variety of political views but have been criticized for their overt partisanship. Stations in the eastern department of Santa Cruz are among the most hostile toward the president. In addition to the state-owned television station, the government operates a news agency, a weekly newspaper, and a network of community radio stations. Civil society groups have expressed concern over the significant expansion of state channels and the conversion of all public media into a “proselytizing force” for the president. In July, Morales created a directorate to govern Television Boliviana, a key component of the Bolivian National Television Enterprise (ENTB). Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana will chair this new executive body, made up entirely of cabinet officials. Critics attacked the channel’s lack of independence from the central government, though ENTB has never been autonomous since its inception in 1977. The government has been criticized for allegedly withholding advertising from opposition-oriented media. Approximately 10.4 percent of Bolivians have internet access, and there were no reports of government-imposed restrictions or surveillance of electronic communications.