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Freedom of the Press 2008 - Bolivia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Bolivia, 29 April 2008, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 10 (of 30)
Political Environment: 18 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 11 (of 30)
Total Score: 39 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Heightened political tensions in 2007 resulted in a climate of increased hostility toward the press among both government and opposition supporters. Freedom of the press remains compromised by inadequate legal guarantees. The constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but Bolivia's penal code stipulates that journalists can be jailed for one month to two years if found guilty of slandering, insulting, or defaming public officials. When the infractions involve the president, vice president, or a minister, the sentence may be increased by half. Few have been prosecuted in recent years. In May 2006, several journalists groups combined to form a National Ethics Council to act as a self-regulator, but it has so far proved ineffective. The legal norms that journalists will be subject to under the new constitution – should it enter into force – remained unclear at year's end; draft articles included strong language protecting press freedom but also used ambiguous terms such as "truthfulness and responsibility" when describing the media's responsibilities. At several points during the year the ruling MAS party also called for an ombudsman to monitor media content.

Bolivia's journalists continued to face the challenges of reporting on their country's volatile politics. President Evo Morales repeatedly criticized opposition media outlets during the year, contributing to a permissive atmosphere for attacks against journalists. In a continuation of the previous year's trends, 2007 began poorly as nearly a dozen reporters were attacked during unrest in Cochabamba in January. Indeed, many of the year's most serious confrontations featured aggression against journalists. In October at least 6 journalists were beaten by police and soldiers while retaking Santa Cruz's main airport, which had been occupied by opposition protesters. In late November rioting in Sucre accompanied the controversial preliminary approval of the draft constitution; 5 journalists faced aggression by the police during the turmoil. The opposition, meanwhile, was responsible for several incidents of violence, including in Cobija on November 27 during a protest against the draft constitution. Impunity for such attacks is the norm. In September Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana suggested that some opposition journalists were in the pay of the US government, though no proof was provided.

Print media are privately owned and diverse in their editorial views, though many newspapers follow a strongly anti-government editorial stance. The television industry is privately owned except for one government-run TV network. Broadcast outlets express a variety of political views, but stations have been criticized for their overt partisanship in news coverage, with outlets from the eastern department of Santa Cruz among the most hostile to the new president; some media owners in the department are active in the political opposition. The government has been criticized for allegedly withholding advertising from pro-opposition media. Radio is the major news disseminator to the countryside, with an estimated 800 stations nationwide. With Venezuelan financial support, the government established a new set of over two dozen community radio networks. One of the largest national networks is Radio Erbol, operated by a consortium of 70 churches. In recent years, Bolivia has experienced a growth in alternative media that includes radio along with new internet news operations, but very few media of any type are profitable. The internet is not restricted by the government, but less than 7 percent of the population was able to access it in 2006.

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