Freedom of the Press 2008

Heightened political tensions and the president’s antipress rhetoric continued to promote a climate of hostility and violence toward the press from both government and opposition supporters, as press freedom remained compromised by inadequate legal guarantees and the increasing polarization of media outlets. While the constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press, Bolivia’s penal code allows for journalists to be jailed for one month to two years if found guilty of slandering, insulting, or defaming public officials. When the infractions involve criticism of the president, vice president, or a minister, the sentence may be increased by half. Nevertheless, few have been prosecuted under these laws in recent years. The legal norms that will govern the press under the new constitution—should it enter into force—remained unclear at year’s end; draft articles included strong language protecting press freedom but also used ambiguous terms such as “veracity and responsibility” when describing media duties. At several points during the year, the ruling MAS party also called for an ombudsman to monitor media content. In May 2006, several journalist groups combined to form a National Ethics Council to act as a self-regulator, but it has so far proven ineffective.

Bolivia’s journalists continued to face the challenges of reporting on their country’s volatile politics. President Evo Morales repeatedly criticized opposition media outlets during the year, contributing to a permissive atmosphere for attacks against journalists. Media watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontieres reported an estimated 60 physical attacks on journalists throughout the year. In a continuation of the previous year’s trends, 2007 began poorly, as at least 11 reporters were harassed and injured by protesters and security forces while covering unrest in Cochabamba in January. In October, at least six journalists were injured by police and soldiers as the government tried to retake Santa Cruz’s main airport, which had been occupied by opposition protesters. In late November, rioting in Sucre accompanied the controversial preliminary approval of the draft constitution; during the turmoil, at least five journalists were physically assaulted by the police, while some members of the media were reportedly attacked by demonstrators. The opposition was responsible for several incidents of violence, including on November 27 in Cobija, when protesters threatened journalists of radio stations Digital and Pando, stoning the stations’ headquarters for their supposed negative portrayal of the regional protest against the new constitution. Impunity for such attacks is the norm. In September, Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana suggested that some opposition journalists were in the pay of the U.S. government, though no proof was provided.

Print media are privately owned and diverse in their editorial views, though many newspapers follow a strongly antigovernment editorial stance. The television industry is privately owned except for one government-run network. Broadcast outlets express a variety of political views, but stations have been criticized for their overt partisanship in news coverage, with outlets from the eastern department of Santa Cruz among the most hostile to the new president; some media owners themselves are active in the political opposition. The government has been criticized for allegedly withholding advertising from pro-opposition media. Radio is the major news source in the countryside, with an estimated 800 stations nationwide. With Venezuelan financial support, the government established a new set of over two dozen community radio networks. One of the largest national networks is Radio Erbol, operated by a consortium of 70 churches. In recent years, Bolivia has experienced a growth in alternative media along with new internet news operations, but very few media of any type are profitable. Less than 7 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2007. According to the U.S. State Department, the president issued a decree in June to increase telecommunications technology to better serve rural areas; however, the decree prohibits the transmission of any partisan messages by stations not affiliated with the government.

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score


Political Environment


Economic Environment