Reporters Without Borders condemns last week’s government announcement that “politicized” news media will be denied the funding that comes from state advertising.
The announcement was made on 10 August by Vice-President Alvaro García Linera, who said state advertising would be withheld from media outlets “that lie” and “practice party politics.”
The government is acting under “Supreme Decree 181,” which has been in effect since 2009 and which allows the authorities to allocate state advertising as they see fit, without being subjected to any criteria.
What the government means by politicized media is not clear. The vice-president said it means “those who call us by every kind of name, those that insult us and those that lie.” Above all, it seems to mean those the government doesn’t like.
“The announced withdrawal of state advertising from ‘politicized’ media is yet another step in the process of silencing independent and opposition media outlets in Bolivia,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk.“We support Bolivian journalists who are struggling against political pressure and we ask the government not to throttle the country’s media by reinforcing a system of state advertising that is perverse because it is subject to arbitrary decision making.”
A recent series of resignations or dismissals of prominent journalists has meanwhile alerted the public to apparent government pressure on news organizations behind the scenes.
The TV station Cadena A denied that there had been any government pressure when it ended “A todo pulmón” presenter John Arrienda’s contract on 31 July, although Arandia had been very critical of the government during a recent wave of strikes and protests in the southern city of Potosí.
The same day, journalist Amalia Pando announced that she was resigning from Radio Erbol, for which she had presented the very popular morning programme “En Directo” for the past ten years. She said she had to leave in order to save the station from being financially strangled by the government.
“The government was demanding my head, so I gave it,” she told the daily newspaper “Eldeber.”
Journalist Enrique Salazar learned on 22 May that the daily programme he had been hosting on Red Uno TV for the past 12 years was being cancelled. The move came just two days after he subjected communication minister Marianela Paco to an aggressive interview. He said he thought the station’s management, not the government, took the decision.
As well as issues linked to Decree 181, there are other worrying problems for journalists including arbitrary arrest (such as Juan Carlos Paco’s recent case) and impunity for violence against journalists. The slowness of the judicial proceedings in the disappearance of Cristian Osvaldo Mariscal Calvimontes of Canal Plus TV in Tarija is one of the latest examples of this.
Bolivia is ranked 94th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.