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Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Bolivia

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1998
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1997 - Bolivia, February 1998, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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.

Working under difficult conditions and with extremely limited resources, the Bolivian press has managed to gain the public's confidence, outpolling the Catholic Church as the nation's most trusted institution. Bolstered by this support, the media have been able to wield considerable influence and successfully lobbied to defeat a government initiative that would have made it illegal for journalists to refuse to reveal their sources.

Under a proposed reform of the Bolivian criminal code, judges would have been empowered to order journalists to reveal their sources if the information was pertinent to a criminal investigation. After meeting with media associations and representatives from journalists' associations, even newly elected President Hugo Banzer came out against the proposal. Banzer, who took office in August, has softened his views about press freedom since he was military dictator of Bolivia from 1971 to 1978. Congress eventually came around to his view, voting on October 15 to scuttle the proposed legislation.

While press groups hailed the bill's defeat, journalists are still bound by the 1925 press law, under which it is a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison to defame or slander public officials (the sentence can be doubled if the official in question is the president, vice president, or a cabinet minister). While physical attacks on journalists have become increasingly rare, legal action remains a serious threat. Journalist associations are working with legislators to update the 1925 press law and expect the law to be ready in 1998 or 1999.

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