IAPA Midyear Meeting 2018

Medellín, Colombia

Democracy is going through a critical time due to interest in extending indefinitely the term in office of president Evo Morales.

On November 28th, 2017, the Plurinational Constitutional Court empowered Morales and Vice-President Álvaro García Linera to run for a new five-year term, even though Article 168 of the Constitution states, "consecutive re-election is only allowed once." Morales and García have three terms in office.

In this context, the media are constantly harassed, financially stifled and threatened.

The most frequent attack is tagging journalists and independent media as "opposition", and this hostile message is then used to incite government sympathizers who often beat, strip equipment and verbally attack reporters covering social conflicts.

Since 2016, a campaign organized by the government and executed by officials, legislators of the ruling party and social organizations has attempted to undermine the work of investigative journalism by calling independent journalists, newspapers and radio stations "lie cartels."

President Morales has declared the press his "number one enemy" and described journalists as "media terrorists". Between 2010 and 2017, the Monitoring Unit of the National Press Association of Bolivia (ANP) reported a total of 291 physical and verbal attacks and threats against journalists and the media.

Since 2010 the government has enacted anti-media legislation such as the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination. Article 16 sanctions -with suspensions of up to one year, any media that authorizes the publication of ideas that, in the opinion of the government, are considered racist.

Faced with the risk of closure, newspaper companies opted for self-censorship by suppressing reader comment spaces on Internet portals and replacing them with signs of approval, disapproval or emoticons.

Vice President Garcia Liner called to prosecute a woman for racist attitudes, but when journalists asked if an assault against a woman by a deputy minister in charge of combating racism would also be punished, he ignored the question and left the press conference.

Since October 2010, radio and TV stations, newspapers, magazines and news portals have been forced to broadcast expensive government campaigns free of charge.

There are 12 laws and decrees that compel the media - without any remuneration, to become spokespersons in the promotion of government policies. Each law imposes an obligation to publish free advertisements in newspapers - in spaces of high commercial value, and the control is aimed only at media known for a critical editorial position towards the government.

All this happens despite the fact that Article 46 of the Constitution states that no one can be forced to provide a service without consent and without fair remuneration.

For some small newspapers this obligation uses up to 30 percent of advertising space.

The allocation of state advertising excludes media that question the actions of government, to the extent that some media fired several investigative journalists for fear of losing official advertising.

"Media that don't receive state advertisements are the ones that lie, insult, defame and discredit authorities," said President Morales in 2017.

Governmental entities, such as the National Tax Service, the National Delivery Service, the Business Authority, the Telecommunications and Transport Regulation and Control Authority, the Gaming Control Authority, the Departmental Labor Directorates and the Vice-Ministry for Communication Policies, which is responsible for monitoring free advertising, carry out inspections and apply unwarranted fines to the media.

A group of government-affiliated union leaders is promoting a life insurance policy for journalists - funded by private media, using one percent of the media's real and effective income, which will be administered by the government and by trade unionists close to President Morales.

Small and medium-sized newspapers would have to forego 40 percent of their annual profits, while large newspapers would have to forego up to 20 percent. If the measure is applied, the media will have to pay retroactive contributions for more than three years.

A study by the ANP indicates that many media will be at risk of bankruptcy, or will have to carry out mass layoffs.

Other highlights:

In November, Ramiro Lizondo Vargas, general manager of the state-owned sugar company Empresa Azucarera de San Buenaventura (Easba), announced the "forthcoming disappearance" of the newspaper El Diario, and threatened the press for questioning the investment and the results of the publicly financed industry.

Lizondo wrote a column in a government newspaper - under the title: "To the rogue press", accusing journalists and the media of "lying and defaming."

In December, the ANP considered the "responsible information" bill - presented by four ruling party legislators, as an attempt at censorship, since it penalizes journalistic work and aims to imprison journalists and media executives.

Later, in January, the ANP regretted having been excluded from the talks between the presidents of the legislative chambers and a sector of the journalistic guild regarding the Penal System Code.

On February 28, during the CIDH meeting in Bogotá, the president of the ANP, Marcelo Miralles Iporre, denounced the financial stranglehold on the media by the government, as well as the censorship imposed through state advertising, and self-censorship promoted by law.

In March, during a paid chain broadcast on eight radio stations, the governor of Chuquisaca, Esteban Urquizu, accused the radio stations Global, Antena 2000, La Plata, as well as the newspaper Correo del Sur of misinforming and minimizing the news about the opening of the Chuquisaca Institute of Oncology (ICO) in Sucre.

In March, the ANP denounced that the attempted murder of journalist Adolfo Yavarí, from Villa Montes (Tarija), ended up with a simple sanction for serious or minor injuries that benefited the aggressor with an abbreviated process and his subsequent release.

On March 20th, Freddy Ticona, cameraman for Abya Yala TV, sustained injuries to his left thigh and arm, and journalist Helen San Román was assaulted and stripped of her work crew. The deed was attributed to coca leaf growers in the Yungas area of the department of La Paz.

At the end of March, journalist María Luz Sacari and her cameraman Adrián Toro, both from the PAT TV network - Oruro, received death threats after being attacked by relatives of a woman accused as alleged intellectual co-perpetrator in the murder of two soldiers.