Bolivia limits free speech/Journalists object

First posted at Journalism, Journalists and the World.

Thanks to IFEX for circulating a report from Bolivia.

Journalists protest against controversial anti-racism law

Seems the Bolivian congress — at the urging of President Evo Morales — enacted the new law that takes effect January 1.

Morales said the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination will reverse centuries of discrimination against the country’s indigenous majority.

Unfortunately it also threatens to shut down news organizations for doing their jobs.

Article 16 says that “any media outlet that endorses or publishes racist or discriminatory ideas will be liable to economic sanctions and the suspension of its operating license.”

Article 23 stipulates that when a crime is committed by a journalist or the owner of a media outlet, the individual will face “a prison sentence of one to five years” and “will not be able to claim immunity or any other privilege.”

The journalism and free speech groups in Bolivia have argued against the wide scope of the law from the very beginning.

In the latest protest against the action, journalists and other news media workers went on strike for 24 hours October 1. Some have even started a hunger strike.

On the day before the law was approved by the congress and signed by Morales — October 7 — 17 major newspapers across the country made a last-ditch plea for amendments to the law. They published their front pages blank, except for the message “No democracy without freedom of expression”.

In response to the protests of the media, Morales said there would be no amendments to the law. He then said press organizations will be invited to a discussion on how to implement the law. He said in an earlier press conference that freedom of expression was still protected but not if it is used as a pretext for racism.

To be honest, this is not surprising.

Morales takes his cues from his buddy Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Both use laws and executive actions they say are designed to correct a previous injustice to silence critics.

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