Freedom of the Press
The administration of President Evo Morales exerts pressure on independent and critical media outlets. Regulatory processes for broadcast media are politicized. Public media outlets favor the government, and have expanded their reach in recent years. Public advertising contracts are disproportionately awarded to government-friendly outlets.
- In December 2015, the telecommunications regulatory authority announced that hundreds of broadcast outlets will see their licenses expire by 2019. To stay on the air, they will have to participate in a public licensing process expected to favor government-backed outlets.
- There were several reports in 2015 of politicized dismissals or resignations of prominent journalists, apparently as consequences for critical reporting.
- Two journalists in the province of Cochabamba were threatened after investigating police corruption.
Legal Environment: 15 / 30 (↓1)
Bolivia’s 2009 constitution protects freedom of speech and of the press, but it also allows for some 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 clears the way 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. Defamation remains a criminal offense and can carry a jail term of between six months and two years. The constitution calls for an independent judiciary, but in practice the judiciary is overburdened, corrupt, and subject to constant pressures from the executive.
Bolivia has no law guaranteeing access to public information. A transparency bill was passed in 2013 but was never signed into law. One controversial provision would give police, military, and government authorities the power to declare information classified. Representatives of the National Press Association (ANP) have noted that the government hampers journalists’ access to information.
The 2010 Law against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination attempts to address degrading portrayals of indigenous people in the media. The law grants authorities the power to fine or shut down news outlets and arrest journalists for published material that is deemed racist. Media organizations can face sanctions even if a remark is uttered by a source or interviewee who does not represent the media organization.
A 2011 telecommunications law established rules for the distribution of television and radio frequencies, the broadcasting of presidential messages, and wiretapping in certain extreme cases. The law allots 33 percent of frequencies to the government, 33 percent to the private sector, 17 percent to social and community-based groups, and 17 percent to “peasant and indigenous groups.” Local journalist advocacy organizations continue to denounce the law, claiming that it restricts freedom of expression by giving too much control to the government.
The Authority for the Regulation of Telecommunications and Transportation (ATT) is responsible for allocating broadcast frequencies. Although ATT is supposed to operate autonomously, members of the opposition as well as independent analysts claim that the ATT is closely linked to the executive. Moreover, requirements to obtain a license are more complicated for commercial media outlets than they are for state and community outlets. In December 2015, César Borth, ATT’s director, announced that more than 500 broadcast outlets will see their licenses expire by 2019. To stay on the air, they will have to participate in a public licensing process, which observers say is likely to favor government-backed social and community groups at the expense of private, independent outlets.
Political Environment: 21 / 40
Bolivia’s media environment is politically polarized, with strong rivalries between pro- and antigovernment media outlets. The 2014 presidential election campaign saw increasing state control over editorial direction of the press and greater partisanship in the media. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which monitors elections, required any company or press outlet to register with the government and report methods and data before releasing poll results. Press groups argued that the measure was a form of unconstitutional prior censorship. State-run television gave unequal coverage to the opposition, for example by broadcasting a soccer match in place of a presidential debate that Morales did not join. Journalists engage in self-censorship, with many fearing that they could lose their jobs in connection with reporting critical of the government or of advertisers.
Both private and state-run media are subject to editorial pressure from the government. There were numerous reports in 2015 of politicized dismissals or resignations of prominent journalists, apparently as consequences for critical reporting. In May 2015, the daily news program of Enrique Salazar was unexpectedly canceled following his critical interview with the communications minister. And in July, Amalia Pando resigned her position hosting a popular morning radio show after 10 years, citing a desire to protect her employer from financial penalties from the government as a result of her reporting.
Journalists in Bolivia are subject to physical threats, though the number of incidents has decreased in recent years. In March 2015, two television reporters, José Miguel Manzaneda and Escarley Pacheco, found threatening notes at their homes after doing a story on police corruption in the province of Cochabamba. Last year, Pacheco was also threatened by the former commander of the Cochabamba police, Alberto Suárez, after reporting that Suárez had been accused by his ex-wife of domestic violence. Impunity remains the norm for violence and harassment of Bolivian journalists.
Economic Environment: 13 / 30 (↓1)
Newspaper readership is limited due to low literacy rates, and radio is the principal news medium, with community radio stations playing a major role. In addition to the state-owned television station, the government operates a news agency, a weekly newspaper, and community radio stations. A substantial proportion of Bolivia’s television stations and newspapers are privately owned, but civil society groups have expressed concern over the significant expansion of state-run channels and the conversion of public media into vehicles for government influence. Internet penetration is limited but expanding, with nearly 45 percent of Bolivians accessing the medium in 2015.
Media ownership in Bolivia has become concentrated and it is not always easy to ascertain ownership. A 2015 report on media concentration by the Inter American Press Association claimed that the government controls, directly or indirectly, over 130 media outlets, the majority being community radio stations in rural areas. In 2014, independent Bolivian journalist Raúl Peñaranda published a book claiming that the government had built a network of pro-Morales media outlets that are owned by Morales sympathizers, and at which editorial policy is effectively determined by the office of the vice president. According to Peñaranda the television networks ATB, PAT, Full TV, and Abya Yala are among such outlets, as is the newspaper La Razon, which belongs to Carlos Gil, a Venezuelan businessman and close friend of Morales.
The Bolivian government continues to use the allocation of advertising as a tool to punish critical media. In August 2015, a study revealed that three television networks, ATB, PAT and BTV, were the beneficiaries of 55 percent of all the government advertising, despite representing only 10 percent of all viewership. In a 2015 interview published by an Argentinian newspaper, Morales himself confirmed that the government denies advertising contracts to certain media, especially those it considers to exhibit strong antigovernment bias.