Addressing parliament on 19 May, presidency minister Juan Ramón Quintana accused the newspapers Erbol, El Deber and Página Siete and the news agency Fides of forming a “cartel of lies.”
He made this dramatic accusation while being questioned by parliamentarians about an alleged case of corruption involving President Evo Morales and a former partner revealed by the journalist Carlos Valverde in February and since picked up by many media outlets. According to Quintana, the media invented the scandal in order to destabilize the country.
Three reporters in particular, Amalia Pando, Raúl Peñaranda and Andrés Gómez, have been the targets of an all-out smear campaign and verbal attacks for several months.
Accused by Quintana of sedition for no valid reason, Wilson García Mérida, the editor of the Sol de Pando newspaper, received a summons on 10 May to report the next day to the public prosecutor’s office in Cochabamba, a city several hundred kilometres away from where he was located.
García Mérida’s lawyer tried to get the summons postponed and to find out exactly what accusations Quintana was making against his client. But to no avail. To escape this denial of justice, García Mérida fled to Brazil and is still there.
Jesús Alanoca, a journalist with the daily El Deber, was arrested while providing live coverage of a demonstration in La Paz on 27 April and, before being released, was ordered to delete all the video footage he had shot. Alvaro Valero, a photojournalist with the daily Página Siete, suffered a similar fate and was attacked during a demonstration in the capital two days later.
Also in that front, the Australian filmmaker Daniel Fallshawn has been intimidated several times in social networks by the Satucos (a government related group), since he started documenting a wave of protests led by people with disabilities that has been happening in the country for several months now.
“This climate of hostility towards the media is having a very negative impact on free expression and cannot go on,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America desk. “The insults, illegal prosecutions and smear campaigns by senior officials against their own country’s journalists are intolerable and are encouraging a level of self-censorship that is extremely damaging for media freedom.”
Mireya Montaño, the parliamentary leader of Movement to Socialism (MAS), President Morales’s party, meanwhile recently said that Bolivia’s press law needed to be revised. This alarmed many journalists, who fear that any revision of the press law in the present context would have a negative impact on freedom of information.
Last August, the government announced that “politicized” news media would be denied the funding that comes from state advertising. RSF issued a press release at the time condemning the move.
Bolivia is ranked 97th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.