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)
Press freedom deteriorated in 2009 due to increased political polarization of the news media, as intimidation and attacks affected journalists across the political spectrum. Bolivia’s new constitution, adopted in February, protects freedom of expression with some potential for limitations. While Article 21 lays out an expansive right to communicate freely, Article 107 imposes a duty to communicate with “truth and responsibility.” Article 107 also creates the opportunity for content-based restrictions by stipulating that the media must contribute to the promotion of the ethical, moral, and civic values of the nation’s multiple cultures. Concern was raised regarding the National Press Association’s Ethics Court, established in October, because two of the five members are former chief justices, not journalists. Observers also expressed doubts about the fairness of frequency allocations for broadcast media and the right to access public information. A freedom of information bill was pending in the legislature at year’s end.
The political environment is characterized by intolerance between government supporters and opponents. In the midst of increased violence and polarization, politicians and news media owners are often called on to act responsibly, with limited success. There is an ongoing “media war” between state-owned and privately owned outlets, and journalists on both sides have fallen victim to violence.
An international tally counted 111 physical and verbal assaults on journalists in Bolivia in the second half of 2009, and the majority of the attacks targeted reporters affiliated with nongovernmental media. A total of 32 outlets were attacked in the same period. In one case, the daily La Razon decided not to publish an article because of physical and legal threats, and in a different episode one of the paper’s journalists was threatened with rape by a person described as the head of La Paz’s Popular Civic Committee. The perpetrator, Adolfo Cerrudo, was sentenced to house arrest in November, making the case one of the few to be resolved. In March, President Evo Morales sued a leading newspaper, La Prensa, for publishing a story linking him to a smuggling operation. On April 12, an anonymous caller threatened to kill La Prensa editor Raphael Ramirez if he refused to stop publishing “lies.” Twenty-four hours later, Carlos Morales, the paper’s director, also received a death threat via telephone; he was warned against publishing any further reports on a corruption scandal involving high-ranking officials. Also that day, news director Andres Rojas of El Alto’s Canal de Television Virgen de Copacabana decided to quit his job after receiving threats against himself and his family. In July, cameraman Marcelo Lobo of La Paz–based television network Gigavision was seriously injured in a beating outside the station that was caught on security cameras. Lobo covered crime and had recently worked on stories of state corruption and antigovernment protests in the city of Santa Cruz. Another cameraman and a journalist working for the UNITEL television network were arrested and beaten by police officers while reporting on an arrest in Santa Cruz in September, according to Human Rights Watch. In November, two reporters for the PAT television network were also assaulted by police, and their driver was shot in the leg, while they were reporting on the abduction of a minor in Santa Cruz.
Impunity has grown as threats and attacks occur with increasing regularity. Inquiries into past cases of murder—such as those of freelancer Juan Carlos Encinas in 2001 and Radio Municipal journalist Carlos Quispe Quispe in 2008—have not progressed despite pressure from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Journalists have also been accused of fomenting hatred. In October, authorities arrested Jorge Melgar Quete of the Canal 18 television station after he apparently disparaged the indigenous origins of many Bolivians and of the country’s president. Similar concerns revolved around Luis Arturo Mendivil’s program Nuestra Palabra on Radio Oriental in Santa Cruz. Mendivil repeatedly glorified the Union Juvenil Crucenista, an extreme-right youth organization in Santa Cruz that is associated with physical attacks on Morales supporters and state-owned media outlets, primarily Canal 7 television and the Red Patria Nueva radio network. Prefects in departments seeking autonomy (Santa Cruz, Chuquisaca, Tarija, and Beni) have been criticized for failing to reject the use of the media to incite hate or violence on their behalf, and for not condemning physical attacks on journalists they dislike. Meanwhile, the president and his allies continued their diatribes against the opposition press, questioning its dignity and professionalism whenever it criticizes state performance.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-run channels and the conversion of all public media into a “proselytizing force” for the president. The television sector and Bolivia’s eight national and numerous local newspapers are for the most part privately owned. However, newspaper readership is limited due to low literacy rates, and radio is often the principal news medium, with community radio stations playing a major role. The government news agency, Agencia Boliviana de Informacion, currently provides free news service via the internet to both public and private channels nationwide. About 11 percent of the population has access to the internet. Broadband internet connections are even more exclusive, reaching only 34,000 subscribers as of January 2009.