Report to the Midyear Meeting

Panama, Panama

March 6 – 9, 2015

Already underway is a political model stated to be socialist and communal, presented once more by Vice President Álvaro García Linera at the official start of the current government's third consecutive term of office. The model, according to official explanations, seeks the definitive takeover of power with total control of the economy and means of production, which presupposes control over the transmission of ideas, opinions and messages through mass media.

Between 2013 and 2014 there was recorded a methodical prosecution of independent news companies for alleged tax debts, and at the same time a policy of discrimination in the placement of official advertising, with the intent to lessen the independence of editorial stances. This was evidenced in the recent electoral campaign in which media supporting the government benefitted.

In addition there are being imposed rules that require media to publish free of charge big announcements of support for state campaigns of the people's security or the mandatory nature of paying for a life insurance for media workers.

Independent media are having financial difficulties that are making unsustainable their operations and the payment of salaries and social security. At the end of 2014 several companies were facing difficulty in paying a wage and two Christmas bonuses, one of which has been imposed due to the alleged growth of the economy.

Tax pressure, lack of official advertising and the new life insurance requirement are leading some media into a situation of survival.

The new modality combines traditional pressures against freedom of expression with those against freedom to do business.

Several newspapers have suffered ongoing harassment by officials responsible for enforcing payment of taxes. Some cases are anecdotal. Officials of the Internal Revenue Service (SIN) visited a newspaper and requested archived information dated prior to the launch of the paper, in a vain attempt to impose a fine for failure to comply with payment.

This kind of case occurs systematically every time a media outlet publishes some news that is disagreeable for the government. The response of the officials is immediate, they visit the media outlet and request documentation.

The officials also go to advertisers, warning them that the contracting of space in the newspaper concerned will imply tax reprisals for the person or company that ignores the warning.

The government already controls, directly or indirectly, several news media, both print and audiovisual. Under the Communication Ministry there operates a network of more than 130 community radio stations in rural towns.

According to the policy laid down by the Communication Ministry state-owned media must be at the service of the political needs and watchwords of the Government. Canal 7, Televisión Boliviana, radio network Patria Nueva and the newspaper Cambio reflect that policy.

At the same time there also exists a strong influence by those in power on the labor union movement. Unions of workers in privately-owned media in La Paz have failed in efforts to replace local union leadership controlled by people politically aligned with the government.

The eagerness for state control in 2014 affected the Foundation for Journalism set up in 2007 by common agreement of the National Press Association (ANP) and the La Paz Journalists Association as the academic arm of those two groups.

The directors of the Foundation for Journalism, whose five-year term ended in 2014, drew up formal cooperation and joint work agreements with the Communication Ministry without consulting the ANP. Due to that the ANP decided not to recognize those agreements and leave in status quo its institutional relationship with the Foundation.

Other important events in this period:

Attorney General Héctor Arce in 2014 accused two journalists with the La Paz newspaper La Razón of disclosing state secrets and espionage and launched actions in court despite there being in effect the Press Law which has under its competency proceedings against people who are accused of committing an offense by publishing something in the press.

The second paragraph of Article 107 of the Political Constitution of the State (CPE) declares that truth and responsibility are exercised through ethical norms and self-regulation of organizations of journalists and news media and their law (Press Law).

In response La Razón, other media and the ANP mobilized to defend the principles on confidentiality of sources. The Attorney General and the courts finally resolved the send the case to a Press Tribunal.

The ANP's Vigilance and Monitoring of Freedom of the Press and of Expression Unit reported an attack on and dismantling of Radio Cruz Andina in the town of Uyuni, Potosí province, on August 12 amid a regional conflict in which a local official belonging to the governing party was questioned. The Telecommunications Regulation and Auditing Authority (ATT) justified the action on the grounds that the news media outlet was operating without a license.

The ANP condemned the ransacking and destruction of Televisión Amazónica and the burning of the home of its director, Mariyln Rivero. Those responsible for these actions were people linked to the land grab that led to violence after being denounced on the television channel.

This year 2015 will be the seventh year with no news about the death of radio broadcaster Carlos Quispe. Neither has there been any progress in the cases of murdered journalists Víctor Hugo and Verónica Peñasco in the town of El Alto, nor of that of Eugenio Aduviri at government headquarters.