Attacks, threats, censorship and harassment by the government and pro-government forces constantly violate press freedom.
The Bolivian government controls numerous newspapers and has stepped up monitoring of critical media, especially on social networks. Ownership of privately owned media is especially highly concentrated, which jeopardises pluralism. The main newspapers are El Deber and El Diario. Canal Sur is the most popular television network.
A period of political turbulence and instability provoked by the forced exile of former President Evo Morales at the end of 2019, was marked by a surge in attacks on the press. The election of Luis Arce, who was inaugurated in November 2020, brought an end to this period. The attacks had included intimidation, harassment, threats, physical assaults, theft of equipment, and censorship on radio and television.
Journalists are considered troublesome and are constantly subjected to legal harassment. In addition, under Supreme Decree 181, adopted in 2009, journalists who “lie”, “play party politics” or “insult the government” may be denied income linked to government advertising. Together with arbitrary arrests and a high level of impunity, this climate strongly encourages self-censorship throughout the country. Many killings of journalists have gone unpunished. Victims include Verónica and Victor Hugo Peñaso Layme, who were murdered in 2012.
Though Bolivia has the biggest reserves of natural resources – gas, lithium – in Latin America, it is the poorest country in the region. Major services are provided by foreign private capital and most of the economy is informal. Financial pressure on the press, especially in the form of allocation of government advertising, can bring major consequences, sometimes even leading to the shutdown of media outlets.
The Catholic Church has historically maintained a strong presence in the media, and has a varied and extensive network of influence throughout the country.
Physical assaults on the media have intensified since 2020, especially in rural areas. Journalists may be violently attacked by demonstrators or security forces. Many radio and television stations have been forced to interrupt broadcasts and have had their offices vandalised.