Report to the 70th General Assembly
October 17 – 21, 2014
The recent electoral process was a photographic demonstration of the fragility of constitutional freedoms in the face of a political power that restricts such fundamental rights as the freedom to express and propose ideas, debate proposals and disseminate the thoughts of people, social groups and opposition political parties.
For the first time nearly six million voters had to wait until the last month before the vote to learn of the political parties' proposals, presented in a hurried manner and with serious media and space limitations.
While the government has been spreading ideology and propaganda since 2005, in an ongoing proselytizing campaign, the Supreme Court prevented the opposition, dispersed by its own problems, having sufficient time to disseminate its programs and proposals. The official ruling was that the campaign in itself be during only 30 days prior to the October 12 general elections.
The impartiality of the body responsible for running the elections has remained in doubt. Already previously its members, some of whom are close suporters of President Evo Morales, imposed on the media and polling companies the obligation to register to be legally enabled to carry out opinion polls and surveys on electoral preferences.
The National Press Association of Bolivia (ANP), which consists of the leading print media, called the requirement "prior censorship" that is excluded from the constitutional wording that assigns the government the role of guarantor of freedom of expression.
The regulation of political reports has responded to an interest in limiting the expression of ideas and proposals of opposition parties, which it has been fully shown to be flexible concerning government campaigns and the conduct of the President during the delivery of public works in the country.
The media had sought various ways to get the public close to the candidates. The President, and at the same time a candidate, has avoided debate on his electoral proposals. In the same sense the majority of candidates of the governing party, serving as senators and deputies, have rejected open debate with the opposition.
State-owned media – Bolivia TV channel, Red Patria Nueva network and the newspaper Cambio – abstained from broadcasting and publishing the debates organized by the news unions in which there participated only the four opposition candidates.
The case of the state-owned channel put in evidence a conduct of total contempt for public opinion when the Communication Minister justified the absence of that broadcast media outlet from the debate among presidential candidates, claiming to "not know" who defines its policies, she being the one who is chair of the board of directors of that company.
Official pressure on independent media also included ruling on the interview with government candidates. A journalist with the privately-owned network TV Uno complained that in order to do an interview with the candidate for Vice President imposed were the subjects while others were vetoed, such as links with the illicit drug trade.
Also of concern was the indiscriminate use of public funds during the electoral campaign, with enormous advertising expenditures and coverage by state-owned media of the governing party candidates. In this case there was no questioning of those in power as they had been co-opted by the government.
In addition to these restrictions during the electoral process other actions of concern for press freedom are continuing.
Since taking office in January 2006 President Morales has accused the press of having become a political player opposed to his regime for denouncing situations of abuse of power and corruption in the government.
The government is continuing with the creation of a network of government and pro-government media that compete with privately-owned media. It strengthened the television network Bolivia TV and radio Patria Nueva with the creation of a network of indigenous radio stations and the purchase of shares in privately-owned media, turning them into pro-government media, as is the case of some newspapers and TV channels. These state-owned media receive official advertising to the detriment of the privately-owned media.
Following the denunciation of cases of corruption or matters of public interest the government filed lawsuits against the La Paz newspapers La Prensa and Página Siete. After the publication of a report on Bolivia's maritime claim legal proceedings were begun against La Razón journalists.
Despite a protest by media organizations the government has ordered a life insurance for journalists which could hit the media's limited budgets. The law requires media to spend 1% of real and effective revenues, prior to deduction of VAT and taxes on the transactions.
The Anti-Racial Law, passed in 2010, makes such journalistic work a criminal offense and allows for the possibility of imprisonment of a journalist or shutdown of a news media outlet, while the Electoral Regime Law also contains restrictions on the coverage of special electoral processes such as election of members of the judicial branch of government.
The government threat of most concern is the plan for a Communication Law that could open the door to the takeover and control of social organizations in the work of the media.
Journalists with Canal 33 television, among them Marianela Montenegro, hav been the victims of raids, abductions, fines and all kind of pressure, outside the current law in that country. This media outlet has also been the victim of the activation of a series of means of pressure that include the opening of legal proceedings not defined and unjustified in an attempt at economic strangulation.
In April 2014 La Razón journalists Ricardo Aguilar and Claudia Benavente in her role as editor were sued on criminal charges of spying and disclosing state secrets in an action launched by the Bolivian Attorney General, the result of a published article concerning the Bolivian maritime claim. In the proceedings there were pressures to reveal the source, violating its confidentiality. After holding appeals to the competent courts the Departmental Justice Tribunal ruled that the case be resolved in the Print Tribunal.
La Razón complained of commercial aggression against it on the part of the leading cement businessman and presidential candidate, who ordered the withdrawal of all advertising and daily subscriptions by the business group that he controls and comprises at least seven companies, thus endangering the media outlet's financial stability.