The country came top in the Americas in the latest Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index published in September 2006 thanks to very few attacks on journalists. But political instability may widen the gap between state and privately-owned media.
With only 13 physical attacks on journalists recorded in 2006, Bolivia did better than neighbouring Peru, Argentina and Brazil for press freedom. But this was tempered by the fact that the media is still weak in Bolivia compared with that in its neighbours and journalists seldom dare to tackle sensitive topics such as drug-trafficking and especially corruption.
The current relatively calm period for the media may not last however due to the very volatile political situation. The media, both pro-government and opposition, was the first target of political score-settling in December when a constitutional crisis arose.
The country reached a milestone in December 2005 by electing its first indigenous president, Evo Morales, a democrat who supports Cuban President Fidel Castro. Soon after his inauguration in January 2006, he publicly rebuked a TV journalist who called Castro a dictator. The former coca-growers’ leader is suspicious of the privately-owned media. His nationalisation of the country’s natural gas and oil resources and summoning of a constituent assembly (elected in August) is also fiercely opposed by the country’s oligarchy and right-wing parties that once held power.
The opposition governs four of the country’s nine provinces and has threatened secession, staged demonstrations and attacked state-owned media. Two fire-bombs damaged the pro-government TV station Canal 7 on 8 September in the eastern city of Santa Cruz, the most vehement opposition stronghold. The authorities said it was the work of the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, which is strongly opposed to Morales. The same week, Juan Domingo Yanique, correspondent of the state-owned radio station Red Patría Nueva in the northern province of Pando, another opposition base, was physically attacked by members of a local civic committee after he refused to say who he worked for. Another Canal 7 reporter and a colleague from Radio Televisión Popular were also attacked while covering clashes between miners in October.
The government in turn did not spare the privately-owned media and the studios of the privately-owned TV station Unitel in La Paz were ransacked by government supporters on 12 October.