MIAMI, Florida (August 31, 2012)—A lawsuit taken out by the Bolivian government against three news media outlets, charging them with “incitement to racism” is an act of intimidation, censorship and a negative precedent for press freedom in the South American country, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) said today.
The government of President Evo Morales accused the Fides news agency and the newspapers Página Siete and El Diario of “dissemination and incitement to racism or discrimination,” a criminal offense under the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination,” enacted in October 2010.
The Presidential Office filed the lawsuit against the three members of the press last week with the Public Prosecutor’s Office. It alleges that they distorted a speech by Morales on August 15 in which he said that in the eastern part of the country “where throughout the year there is production … only by being lazy can we go hungry … while in the Altiplano it is different.” The news agency headlined its report “Evo says that if you go hungry in the east it is due to ‘laziness’,” a report replicated by Página Siete, while El Diario titled its piece “Evo says that the east is lazy and they criticize him for being discriminatory.”
The chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, declared, “This legal action is an example of intolerance and a negative precedent that would appear to have the intent of censuring and inducing self-censorship in the press.”
Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, who headed an international IAPA delegation to Bolivia in 2010, recalled that the organization had warned that Articles 16 and 23 of the anti-racism law contained serious restrictions of press freedom due to their ambiguity in saying that media are responsible for disseminating racist or discriminatory expressions or ideas. Enactment of the law, passed in 2011, penalizes “deliberate and systematic expressions, consisting of verbal or written statements, with the aim of damaging the dignity of a certain person or group for racist or discriminatory motives,” an argument that has been used by government officials in recent days as justification for complaint.
On learning of the government action journalists, news media and press organizations have held demonstrations in various parts of the country in protest at and rejection of the lawsuit against the three media outlets.
The IAPA is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is made up of more than 1,300 print publications from throughout the Western Hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida. For more information please go to http://www.sipiapa.org.