Report to the Midyear Meeting

Bridgetown, Barbados

April 4 – 7, 2014

Freedom of information, expression and opinion are conditioned and put in into question by government harassment.

The governing party's intention to implant a new information paradigm is reflected in the impossibility of learning about matters of public interest. The emblematic case is the lack of information about the whereabouts of the remains of Marcelo Quiroga Santa Cruz, founder of the Socialist Party in Bolivia, murdered 34 years ago during a military coup d'état that put General Luis García Meza in the Presidency. Murdered along with Quiroga Santa Cruz were Congressman Carlos Flores Bedregal and mining director Gualberto Vega Yapura. Although the current government proclaims ideological affinity with those victims to date it has been impossible to know where their remains were buried.

There are dozens of cases in which access to official information is impossible. For example, the unsolved case of alleged terrorism that served for the official explanation of the death of three people, two of them foreigners, riddled with gunfire in a hotel in downtown Santa Cruz in April 2009. Or the police violence against an indigenous march on La Paz to express rejection of a government highway project.

The government is studying a bill for a Law on Transparency and Access to Information. However, the Legislature has set 13 concrete exceptions, which go further than the logics that have to do with national security. Even more serious, it would empower the Executive, Legislative, Judicial and Electoral branches, the Armed Forces and the Police to create new exceptions according to their own criteria.

The period prior to the October general elections presents a hardly encouraging panorama due to the censorship that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal will be applying to the media that want to publish the results of polls, voter preferences and other information aimed at forming opinion among readers.

For the first time the Electoral Branch will be able to require any company carrying out polls to register and report on its consulting activity and voter surveys.

The result of the censorship mechanism is foreseeable. The independence of the polling firms will subject to the criteria of officials of an institution which, according to the opposition parties, responds to the mandate of President Evo Morales who will be seeking re-election for a new five-year period.

During the judiciary elections held in October 2011 the same institution imposed bans on news media on interviewing candidates for the top judicial positions.

The credibility of the justice system was thus undermined. The people rejected unknown candidates and the blank and null votes represented 60% of the vote, along with the high level of abstention.

The National Press Association (ANP) expressed fear given the censorship and called attention to the consequences of a democracy dominated by the governing party. Media weakness has become the objective of those in government. The methods repeat themselves – silencing through a reduction in newspapers' revenue, use of official advertising as a means of pressure, and the suppression of newsprint.

The government puts pressure on independent print media, requiring them to publish campaigns and messages free of charge. On the argument that dissemination of measures of protection of women, children and public safety the government created under law the obligation of the media to devote much space to official messages.

There are five norms on the publication of advertisements, contravening constitutional principles protecting free enterprise.

Last year the newspapers El Diario and La Prensa suffered the embargo of the buildings where they operate. Executives of the two papers took the appropriate action to comply with tax payment requirements but surprisingly the government acted to impose an embargo without prior negotiation or despite existing commitments to pay.

The government has in addition created new and irregular tax charges on news media. Among these, payment of 1% of gross revenue to fund life insurance for press workers to be administered by a committee whose majority members are representatives of the government.

To these developments there can be added the purchase of several independent media by third parties, generally unknown, to put them at the service of the government's political interests. There already have been concrete cases of journalists required to quit or be fired from their sources of income in reprisal for the content of their news coverage or for stating criteria that the government regards as negative for it.