The Banco Unión bank denied mortgage loans to four journalists on the grounds that their job was in a “sensitive sector,” according to the explanation given by officials of the bank, who attributed the action to a matter of “internal policy.” Shortly afterwards the bank reported that loans were not being withheld from journalists and the information published in the Santa Cruz de la Sierra newspaper El Deber on October 21 was false, although it did admit that an official had provided “incorrect information attributed to an erroneous interpretation.” The newspaper backed up its report with tape-recorded supporting evidence from the bank officials. The case does not violate freedom of expression but it does illustrate a growing and diverse antipathy towards independent media and journalists. The most serious development in this period was the recent passage of the Law Against Racism and Social Discrimination whose Articles 16 and 23 provide for, in the first instance, the removal from circulation media and their owners not aligned with the governing party, using any kind of subtle maneuver, and in the second instance application of the Penal Code to journalists, thus disregarding the current Press Law and self-regulation. As a consequence of Article 16 news editors are faced with the choice of resorting to shameful self-censorship to remove words, phrases or statements that could be considered racist or discriminatory or running the risk of bringing about suspension of the media outlet’s operating license. The IAPA warned that the Law Against Racism and Social Discrimination, clumsily diverted from its noble objective, “cannot achieve its true dimension nor its social and human ends if it provides for prior censorship through the imposition of harsh penalties, contrary to the public’s right to know.” The government television channel and all the ruling party’s communication apparatus have been given over to the task of finding means to discredit newspapers, radio stations and privately-owned television networks, by producing and disseminating a ranking of the most racist media. One case exemplifies this “dirty war” – the case of the threats made in the City Council of the mining town of Oruro to prosecute the newspaper La Patria, charging it with discriminating against the council members by using just the word “Councilors” rather than “Honorable Councilors,” this being a synonym recognized by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. During a recent mission the IAPA learned on-site that the independent press and freedom of expression are facing their greatest risk since the restoration of democracy in Bolivia 28 years ago – a risk coming from a noble and just law in which, however, deceitfully and in a clandestine manner there have been included two disputed articles that the corresponding legislative committee decided to keep unchanged. This followed the public request made by President Morales himself not to change “even one comma,” lending a deaf ear to the protests and demonstrations by various Bolivian and foreign press organizations. Morales also ignored a request made by the board of directors of the National Newspapers’ Association (ANP) at a 5:00 a.m. meeting that he instruct this party’s parliamentary majority to remove the two disputed articles and thus prevent its democratic image from becoming tarnished. Vice President Alvaro García Linera said he regards limits on press freedom and free speech as “a secondary issue” and added that journalists should feel content with the law, and not so some news media owners. In contradiction to García Linera more than a half million people signed a petition supporting an initiative for the law to be amended. Worthy of mention is the historic mobilization of the press, which included the publication on the front pages of all the country’s newspapers, except one, of the message “Without freedom of expression there is no democracy” and a hunger strike that lasted for several days in various parts of the country. Since the Midyear Meeting in Aruba attacks on journalists and media decreased, perhaps because beatings and insults have given way to decrees and gag laws. There were still attacks being reported – according to the ANP there were 99 attacks on journalists and 62 on news media outlets, including state-owned ones.