BOLIVIA Report to the Midyear Meeting Caracas, Venezuela March 28 - 30, 2008 Press freedom is seriously threatened. A draft constitution approved by the government in an irregular procedure has an article intended to limit this freedom. The process of approving the proposed constitution has caused the most serious crisis in this country. Article 108, paragraph II states: “News and opinions expressed in the news media must respect the principles of truthfulness and responsibility.” Placing a condition on a freedom simply eliminates it, especially if the conditions are subjective, allowing authorities to rule arbitrarily on what is truth and responsibility. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights warned in an interpretation of the Inter-American Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression that it “would not be legal to invoke society’s right to be truthfully informed to justify prior restraint, supposedly to delete information that the censor considers false.” This means that press freedom even protects news that is considered “wrong.” The proposed constitution, which will be voted on in a referendum in Bolivia, would disregard this. The National Press Association (ANP) is fighting this article, which seems part of a strategy by the government of President Evo Morales to destroy the free press, which he called his “main enemy” shortly after being inaugurated. The ANP is still waiting for an answer to its message to the Constituent Assembly stating its objection to the article. Press freedom has deteriorated in the past year because of this apparent strategy of discrediting the press in order to control it later. The government, including the president and his cabinet, unjustly accuses the press of lying, of conspiracies and of defending those it calls opposition oligarchies. It accuses journalists of being pawns of the US. Embassy, of lying and of opposing the government. On March 18, a letter from the Telecommunications Office to 1,060 radio and television stations caused a stir in the country. Media and journalists associations called it a new demonstration of the government’s escalating campaign against press freedom. The letter, signed by office director Jorge Nava, warned of 50- to 25-day fines or temporary suspension of 25 to 125 days for media outlets that transmit subliminal “propaganda or messages, in advertising or programs, during their entire broadcast.” The message, in an even more ominous section, warned that there would be sanctions for “the broadcast of news, which, even if it is accurate, could damage or alarm the people because of its form or timing.” Some media outlets reported that cabinet ministers said the executive branch had not initiated the office’s action Independent journalism, because it is part of the public sector, has been attacked by officials as an adversary of their supposedly socialist or communist political ideology. Journalists are constantly subjected to humiliating insults by government supporters at public events or marches. During the last blockade of the Congress in February, intended to keep out opposition legislators who opposed laws about the constitutional referendum, journalists and cameramen who covered attacks on an opposition legislator were insulted. In the first week of March two journalists of television channel Bolivisión¸ were almost lynched themselves while covering the lynching of three policemen who were beaten and hanged. The journalists were attacked by an angry mob in the town of Epizana in the middle of the country. Media executives and journalists in Cochabamba reacted to this violence by holding a march to demand government guarantees for the practice of journalism. In the first week of March, a group of government sympathizers surrounded a woman journalist from the daily La Razón, insulted her and threatened to rape her. Shortly before, this group had thrown stones to try to disperse a meeting of “pacifists” in a plaza in La Paz and attempted to grab a television cameraman’s equipment. Pro-government groups, encouraged by verbal attacks against the press and assuming that the media oppose the government, stoned four buildings housing radio and television stations. During disturbances in Sucre in November, when people demanded that the Constituent Assembly recognize that city as the official capital of the country, journalists were attacked by both sides. Journalists who attended a police press conference were kicked and beaten by officers. The police later apologized, but accused some radio stations of inciting the disturbances by encouraging people to go into the streets. In an obvious attempt to impose uniformity in the news to its advantage, the government, with economic support from Venezuela, is installing a network of 30 radio stations in rural areas. It is also preparing to establish a network of television channels, financed by the government of Iran, for the same purpose. When he announced the establishment of the radio network, Cliford Paravicini, then director of telecommunications, said it would publicize government actions and counteract media outlets the government considers opponents. The branch of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters reported that the government Office of Social Communication had warned independent community radio stations that it would not renew their licenses unless they promised to transmit chain broadcasts by the state-run Radio Patria Nueva. The country has had bitter experience with these chain broadcasts of government bulletins, which were imposed by the military dictatorships in the 1960s and 1970s.