Reporters Without Borders voiced deep concern today about an increase in the past two weeks in attacks on the press that are linked to Bolivia’s growing political crisis. State and privately-owned media are becoming targets in tit-for-tat violence between government supporters and opponents.
“Journalists from the state media and those that support President Evo Morales are clearly in danger in the eastern department of Santa Cruz, the northern departments of Beni and Pando and the southern department of Tarija, where the opposition majority is threatening to break away from Bolivia,” the press freedom organisation said.
“Government supporters, on the other hand, must not yield to the temptation to take reprisals against privately-owned and opposition media,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “We urge the Bolivian press not to wage a media war that could quickly get out of hand. We also appeal to journalists’ unions to actively campaign against reprisals being taken against any journalists, regardless of the media they work for. We will support such an initiative.”
Julio Peñaloza of radio Erbol, who is known for his criticism of the Santa Cruz departmental government’s secessionist aspirations, was insulted and attacked in the city of Santa Cruz yesterday as he was covering an opposition demonstration calling for regional autonomy. When he fell off his moped in the city’s main square, it was only thanks to the intervention of the police that he avoided being the victim of a “mob lynching,” his Erbol colleagues said. Peñaloza has also reported receiving phone calls telling him to shut up.
The daily newspaper La Razón said the assailants were members of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, a movement which is radically opposed to the Morales government and which was blamed for the two petrol bombs that were thrown at Canal 7 on 8 September (see 13 September release).
In the administrative capital, La Paz, some 20 people laid siege to the headquarters of two privately-owned TV stations, Unitel and Periodistas Asociados de Televisión (PAT), on the night of 6 December in protest against their pro-opposition positions. Acts of violence were narrowly averted by the arrival of the police. PAT is headed by Carlos Mesa, who was Bolivian president from 2003 to 2005.
Members of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), President Morales’ party, attacked Julio Saavedra of Radio Betel, Franz Navia of Radio Centro and a Canal 52 TV cameraman in the central city of Cochabamba on 27 November, accusing them of being “opposition accomplices.” They sustained light injuries.
Following the election of a constituent assembly without an absolute majority in August, there has been steadily mounting tension between government supporters who are demanding constitutional reforms on the basis of a simple majority, and opposition supporters who say any reforms would require a two-thirds majority.
An anti-corruption bill that would ban the media from covering ongoing investigations could exacerbate the tension. Parliament is due to resume debating the bill on 19 December.