01 October 2015


In the first year of the third consecutive term of President Evo Morales and while his supporting bases are studying an indefinite prolongation of his time in office pressures on the news media are becoming more visible. Official advertising has become an instrument of censorship. President Morales and Vice President Álvaro García Linera admitted the exclusion of the media which, in their opinion “practice politics and lies.” The Bolivian press sees with concern the effect of this indirect intervention which led to the separation of journalist Amalia Pando from the news radio station with the largest audience, Radio Erbol. This later happened to other influential journalists, such as Enrique Salazar, host of the television program “QNMP,” following a verbal exchange with Communication Minister Marianela Paco in May, and the press chief of Cadena A television network, John Arandía, shortly afterwards. Pando’s resignation from her radio station on August 27 was a demonstration of the effectiveness of a governmental policy of asphyxiation of media critical of its actions. Before leaving the microphones of the Catholic radio station Pando described a systematic government action which in addition to withdrawing its ads pressured non-governmental organizations and intimidated private sector companies into not advertising on Radio Erbol. During a question time in the Legislative Assembly Communication Minister Paco reported that in 2014 there was employed the equivalent of $93.6 million in the “dissemination of information” by her office and projected an expenditure of $41 million in 2015. But she avoided giving details of the placement of official advertising among state-owned, community and private sector media, the reason for which she was called to report by opposition legislators. Legislator for the opposition party Unidad Democrática (UD) Wilson Santamaría revealed that 55% of official advertising is directed to privately-owned television networks ATB, PAT and BTV administered by the Communication Ministry. The amount assigned to these three media outlets is close to $60 million and their audience coverage amounts to only 10% of the publicly-owned ones, according to a study made public by him (Los Tiempos, 8/29/15). Bolivia’s National Press Association (ANP) declared in 2014 that a policy of “tax siege and financial asphyxiation” threatened the independence of the Bolivian media. In 2015 a total of five print, radio and television media were ordered to pay stiff fines for disseminating information concerning local and regional elections, as an effect of an electoral law that prohibits the publication of polls, something contrary to constitutional freedoms. The Unit of Monitoring and Oversight of Freedom of the Press and Expression in Bolivia doubled the publication of alerts. In 2014 reports on physical and verbal attacks and other cases affecting the work of journalists totaled 43, while in the first eight months of 2015 they rose to 60 cases. This year remains tarnished by the imprisonment of two journalists while they were carrying out their reporting role. El Diario reporter Carlos Quisbert was sent to prison on March 9 on the orders of a judge who regarded his work of investigation as an interference in the inquiries seeking to clarify the death of a child in a state-run home for the protection of minors. On July 24 Radio Líder in Potosi journalist Juan Carlos Paco was imprisoned by another female judge who held his work covering the news to be a violent action against anti-riot police. Paco was covering a protest arising from demands by social organizations in Potosi province that moved to La Paz to demand of President Morales the construction of infrastructure to help the development of one of Bolivia’s poorest regions. The ANP and press workers unions mobilized and obtained the release of both journalists, but the action of the Attorney General’s Office and the courts remains as a warning sign for journalists that try to report impartially. On September 4 a public prosecutor ordered the detention of journalist Esteban Farfán Romero in the city of Yacuiba, Tarija province, on a charge of alleged libel. After 24 hours of being deprived of his freedom a judge ordered him to be released. Farzán makes denunciations of corruption attributable to local authorities. Criticisms by NGOs of government actions led to a hardening of rules governing the operation of civil not-for-profit bodies, foundations and social research centers. Vice President Álvaro García Linera threatened to throw out of the country organizations that question the government because he regards the work of analysis as being of a political nature. As a consequence of the government warnings a total of 38 NGOs were declared to be “irregular” and would not be able to engage in financial transactions. Among those affected are the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights of Bolivia (APDHB), Bolivian Human Rights Chapter, Democracy and Development, Bolivia Center of Documentation and Information (Cedib), and the National Network of Information and Communication Workers (Red ADA). On at least two occasions the Web sites of state media Cambio, Agencia Boliviana de Informaciones (Abi) and the Communication Ministry suffered cybernetic attacks from sites located in Chile. The attacks consisted of replacing messages on the site with phrases rejecting the Bolivian demand for access to the Pacific Ocean through regions belonging to it before the Pacific War of 1879. Information offenses have little legislation in Bolivia. Article 363-B of the Penal Code on informational manipulation says: “He or she who with the intent of obtaining an undue benefit for himself or herself or a third party, manipulates a process or transfer of informational data that leads to an incorrect result, or avoids a process whose result would have been correct, bringing about in this manner a financial transfer in detriment to a third party, shall be punished with imprisonment of one to five years with a fine of 60 to 200 days.” Article 363-C on Alteration, Access and Undue Use of Informational Data says: “He or she who without being authorized takes over, accesses, uses, modifies, deletes or incorrectly uses data stored in a computer or in any information device, causing damage to the owner of the information, shall be punished with forced labor for up to one year or fined up to 200 days.” Other significant events in this period: On August 24 the Bolivian Ministry of Works linked the campaign of solidarity of Radio Erbol listeners with money laundering and raised the suspicion that “the international bodies of imperialism, such as the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and others, can use these mechanisms to continue with their attacks on the Process of Change Government and continue with their Soft Blows.” On August 10 journalist Amalia Pando complained of a government attempt to shut down Radio Erbol in La Paz as part of a strategy aimed at silencing independent media with the political objective of the indefinite re-election of President Evo Morales and called for citizens’ support to fund the work of the radio station. On July 17 journalist and host of an independent television program broadcast in the border town of Yacuiba, Tarija province, in southern Bolivia, Nataly Herrera Vedia received threats to rape her and burn down her house through messages on social media and in cel phone calls from followers of Deputy Governor José Quecaña. On June 3 independent journalist in El Alto city Roger Romero Cossio was beaten up by a group of people said to be avenging allegations of corruption that he makes in his television program. On April 15 the Santa Cruz Provincial Electoral Tribunal (TED) fined Radio Televisión Universal (RTU) in the town of Montero for broadcasting electoral propaganda without authorization and its director, Ciro García Becerra, appealed the fine. Cash payment of the $55,000 fine could cause the shutdown of the channel, he warned. On April 1 a journalist with privately-owned PAT television channels, Irene Torrez, and Edwin Choque of Red Uno network accused Hugo Morales, President Evo Morales’ brother, and his companion named Lazpo, for having made threats and attacks, while the Oruro Press Workers Union called for public apologies. On March 27 the Press Workers Union Federation in Cochabamba province declared itself to be in an emergency and permanent vigilance following threats to and political pressures on its members during news coverage prior to regional elections on March 29. On March 19 cameramen with Red Uno network Luis Miguel Oporto and with Canal 34 Erick Mayta were clubbed by militants of the Movement to Socialism (MAS) governing party as they sought to interview its candidate for mayor, Édgar Patana. Also on March 19 Bolivia’s National Press Association (ANP) complained that the Beni Provincial Electoral Tribunal had imposed a fine of 72,000 bolivanos (some $10,374) on the newspaper La Palabra de Beni for having reported on a press conference called by the Regional Governor Carmelo Lens on March 2.