News

November 15, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Journalists’ unions still protest at dangers in anti-racism law


Bolivian journalists’ union today completed collecting signatures for a major petition urging parliament to amend a new law against racism and all forms of discrimination enacted on 8 October because of the threat it poses to news media. Two articles in the new legislation (number 045) have created suspicion and concern within the profession. By 7 November 2010 the petition had already attracted some 700,000 signatures, the organisers said. The government has stepped up consultation with civil society to regulate the law but most professional bodies decided not to take part. A media observatory has been specially created to follow any complaints made against journalists or media under the new law. Reporters Without Borders has never objected to the general principle of a law which is justified by the recent political context. Nevertheless, we have suggested amendments to remedy any ambiguity in its application, particularly under Article 16 by which a media could be banned for “authorising or publishing racist and discriminatory ideas”. We proposed that this punishment should be applied to “media that explicitly defend racism and discrimination”. The World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) has expressed the same view. Government talks set up on regulating the law are in themselves positive. Unfortunately, we find that the new legislation is already been applied without its controversial wording first being clarified. Our fears are being confirmed with cases currently under way. A badly drawn up and badly applied law could fail in its purpose and end up losing all legitimacy. A first case, reported in Potosí, in south-western Bolivia involves proceedings launched by the former secretary of the peasants’ federation against José Luis Apacani, the presenter of the TV programme “El Variadito” on privately-owned Canal 33. During the live broadcast, a spectator called the plaintiff “llama face” (a racist term used against the indigenous people of Altiplano). The channel’s managers decided to take the programme off air. “It was a case of negligence on the part of the journalist. We told him not to take telephone calls but he disobeyed”, they said. This case illustrates the problems created by the terms of the law on the responsibility of media. In this case, Canal 33 and it presenter did not call for racism, even if the comments of a viewer were reprehensible. The legal confusion could end in self-censorship. In a second case, local councillors in Oruro region announced they were bringing a complaint against the daily La Patria, which in an article on 9 September, referred to them as “concejiles” (little councillors) instead of “concejales”, a term that they considered to be “discriminatory”. In this case the offence seems to have even shakier grounds and also raises the problem of retroactivity of a law, which should normally only be applied to cases following its promulgation. (Photo : La Prensa)