Freedom of the press and of expression, characterized by an ongoing siege by the government and other sectors of journalists and news media, are now threatened with being restricted by a ruling that President Evo Morales intends to introduce “to educate” journalists “not to lie,” and that on asking a question they raise their left arm with closed fist and fight against “imperialism.” The presidential warning to issue such a ruling has put the press on the alert, but at the same time it has generated a certain concern among news organizations which are coming up with various alternatives to prevent freedom of expression from being mutilated in this way. The Bolivian Confederation of Press Worker Unions (CSTPB) said it has a legislative bill on alternative press ready to put to the consideration of the self-styled Multinational Legislative Assembly. The National Press Association (ANP) and the National Association of Journalists of Bolivia (ANPB) are rejecting the attempt to adopt any such law, saying that it would give a green light for freedom of expression to be threatened. To this end the news organizations have agreed to hold debates in the country to come up with a final position. The ANP named and put to work in 2009 a news ethics tribunal with the objective of improving the quality of print journalism, and providing a body which authorities or persons that feel harmed by news reports may go to. The tribunal will be in charge of judging ethical shortcomings of journalists and media belonging to this organization, and imposing moral sanctions. It is made up of a former Supreme Court chief justice, a former chief justice of the Bolivian Constitutional Court and three journalists who have been awarded the National Journalism Prize. The ANPB, the Bolivian Broadcast Association and the Association of Journalists of La Paz set up another ethics tribunal to pass judgment on transgressions of ethics principles by other news media. Both tribunals comply with the Bolivian Constitution, whose part 2, paragraph 2 of Article 107 states that the principles of accuracy and responsibility “shall be exercised through the standards of ethics and self-regulation of the organizations of journalists and news media and the law.” Since President Morales obtained an overwhelming 64% vote on which he was re-elected for a new five-year term in the December 6, 2009 elections, there have been signs of an increase in self-censorship in some independent media. Several television channels have lowered their news profile and, although there has been official silence, it is known that government sympathizers have acquired some television channels and print media that add new government-sympathetic entities to a newspaper, the country’s most widely viewed television channel, and the radio network Patria Nueva, all state-owned, to serve as government propaganda outlets. President Morales has assumed full control of the three branches of government. His party has a more than two-thirds majority in the Legislature and he personally appointed the justices of the Supreme Court and the Bolivian Constitutional Tribunal, the Judiciary Council and the Attorney General, who in turn named public prosecutors in the country’s nine provinces, four of them militants of the governing party. It is increasingly frequent for journalists to be called in by public prosecutors, presumably government supporters, to be witnesses in cases, especially those with political implications. In the ANP’s view this is a means to intimidate that can lead journalists to refrain from covering conflicts. The prosecutors have virtually frozen investigations into armed attacks by police on reporters from the UNITEL television network on September 3, 2009 and from PAT television on November 26, both in the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra. On September 3, 2009 UNITEL reporter Alberto Ruth and cameraman Francisco Cuéllar were attacked by police officers belonging to the Crisis Resolution Tactical Unit (Utarc) as they were covering the arrest of a citizen involved in a land dispute with peasant supporters of the government. The two were beaten, a police pickup crashed into their car, their camera was shot at and destroyed, and the film was confiscated. The government the next day admitted that police under the command of Captain Walter Andrade had taken part in the assault, and it dissolved that elite police unit which had been engaged in other bloody actions of a political bent, saying that they had suspended those involved to face internal legal proceedings. To date the attackers have not been sanctioned despite having been identified. On November 26, also in Santa Cruz, two female reporters of the PAT television network were chased, ordered out of their car, and dragged by the hair for several yards by police belonging to the Delta group, who fired their guns, wounding Ismael Jesús Montero in the leg, the driver of the journalists’ car, which was also a target of the shots. Reporters Shirley Flores and Karen Paola Rueda were gathering information about the abduction of a minor. The Interior Ministry announced an investigation to try those responsible in internal proceedings or fire them, but nothing is known to have been done. On January 25, on announcing that a law to educate journalists should be drawn up, President Morales urged journalists and news media to join in “this task of fighting capitalism.” The case of journalist Carlos Quispe Quispe, murdered on March 29, 2008 by a group of demonstrators opposed to the mayor of the Andean town of Pucarani, remains a mystery. The public prosecutor’s office in the town of El Alto de La Paz, where the case is located, along with the police, halted investigations and no authority has done anything to revive them. To this panorama is added the fact that the President has broken a virtual truce that he himself gave, with his systematic attacks on journalists. Since November 2009 a total of 21 attacks on or verbal criticisms of journalists have been recorded. Six of them, that is more than 25%, came from President Evo Morales himself. The latest verbal assault was on March 3, when he threatened reporter Nicole Bisbal of the UNITEL network that he will personally order that it publish textually what he declared. ”Have you understood? Have you been listening?” he said in front of the cameras. The government, through the Legislature, has adopted a controversial Anti-Corruption Law that enables investigation of unlawful enrichment by former government officials, and another on Hearings of Responsibilities of former presidents and government dignitaries who may have committed administrative offenses. Those laws are questioned by legal analysts and government opponents who feel they violate human rights in ignoring, among other things, the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven, and that they will only be used as an instrument of political revenge. Despite these and other laws described by the government as aimed at generating transparency in public administration, decrees have been issued that shut the doors on access to public information, denying the people and journalists the possibility of investigating details of the assets and earnings of officials, unless there is a legal order issued in due process. The Armed Forces have shielded themselves behind their internal regulations to withhold information requested legally on murders, disappearances and tortures committed by dictatorial regimes. In April 2009 the government issued a Supreme Decree that requires the legislative and judicial branches of government to provide access to information, the 2005 Supreme Decree having referred only to the executive branch. In practice, however, few agencies fulfill their obligations, due to the lack of any entity of enforcement in case of a failure to comply. Meanwhile, a bill for a Law on Access to Information, drawn up four years ago by the current Transparency Minister, is asleep on some Chamber of Deputies shelf, although it is posted on the Ministry’s website. Other important developments in this period: On November 9, a group of disabled persons demanding severance payment from the government attacked the state-owned radio station Patria Nueva, threatening to beat up journalists there, and they cut the electric lines, causing the media outlet to suspend broadcasting for two hours, journalist Jenny Abiza reported. On November 10, President Morales asked the IAPA to teach some journalists in Bolivia to respect him, in response to the demand that he refrain from “insulting and verbally attacking” reporters.” The IAPA tells Evo to respect the journalists, but I want to tell the IAPA that as an organization it should teach some journalists to respect me,” he said in the town of Potosí. “If they do not respect the President, how are they going to respect the Bolivian people?” he asked. “We want the press to tell the truth, only the truth …. That is an international battle that has to be fought.” On November 27, reporter Paola Mallea of PAT television was stabbed as she was leaving her home. This happened less than 24 hours after a team from the same television network was shot at by an elite police unit, about which the media outlet filed a formal complaint and asked the government for protection. The female journalists reported that some days later they were temporarily abducted by two assailants. On December 2, President Morales suggested the possibility of declaring himself on hunger strike to “free” journalists who are “instruments of the right.” “I can get work for all of them, so all of them can come and work and not be at the service of the right to harm Bolivia, the homeland, the Bolivians, and also life,” he declared. On December 18, the editor-in-chief of the pro-government newspaper Cambio, Ramiro Ramírez Simons, was attacked in La Paz by a group of unidentified persons as he was returning home. As a consequence of the beating he sustained a broken nose and a possible broken jaw. On January 10, Juan Manuel Arias, spokesman of Santa Cruz businessman Branko Marinkovic, accused the newspaper La Razón of carrying out “persecution” of his boss, due to the fact the newspaper wanted to know Marinkovic’s whereabouts, the paper reported. On January 12, the mayor’s office of the town of Sucre (in southern Bolivia) issued a memo in which it warned intermediaries that “they are not authorized to issue public statements in news media without prior authorization.” On January 25, President Morales announced that his government would regulate news media so that “they do not lie” and asked journalists to “join the fight against capitalism.” Morales declared that there are news media that make comments about him when they call him an Indian, an animal or a macaque, and that they even suggest he should be killed; he then warned that “We have to start to correct and regulate so that we all act within the law.” On January 28, the speaker of the Bolivian Chamber of Deputies, Héctor Arce (of the governing MAS party), declined to attend a consultation meeting of television news media outlets and ordered a reduction in space provided to reporters covering the legislature. On February 23, Oscar Sandy, executive director of Insumos Bolivia – an agency of the Production Development and Plural Economy Ministry – announced that he would sue Carmen Melgar, a reporter with the UNITEL television network, for libel for having reported that the food agency had out-of-date flour in stock. On March 3, President Morales reprimanded two female reporters during a press conference he gave at the government headquarters. He asked one of them to take note textually of what he was saying and said he would “be in charge of seeing whether there is freedom of expression.” The other, after her question, he described as “spokesperson of some colleagues and compatriots who are left as the remains of neo-liberalism.” Nicole Bisbal of UNITEL had asked him: “Mr. President, what is your opinion about the United States and the International Monetary Fund and their relationship with Bolivia?” To the question Morales responded: “Look, the United States and the International Monetary Fund allow everything …. Excuse me, what media outlet are you from?” The reporter answered and the President continued: “UNITEL, I want you to write down textually what I say, I am going to be in charge of seeing whether there is freedom of expression …. Understand? Are you listening?” On March 7, the judge of the La Paz 7th District Criminal Court, Alvaro Melgarejo, momentarily seized the tape recorder of La Razón reporter Miguel Melendres during a hearing of accusations of unlawful purchases brought against three former officials of the National Customs Service, the journalist reported. On March 9, Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca became annoyed when during a press conference he was asked when he would give the Bolivian government the money raised in his campaign “Chile and Haiti need you,” and asked the reporters there how much they had donated for that cause. “I ask you if the people of the press have joined in. You ask how much exactly, I ask you how much have you given?” he declared.