The adoption of the anti-racism law and the controversy about it in the media are to be followed by a new media law next year. Amid the often tense debate in Bolivia about civil liberties, Reporters Without Borders has interviewed Ronald Grebe López, the president of the National Journalists Association (ANP), and Idón Chivi, director-general of decolonization at the Ministry of Cultures.
Grebe, a critic of President Evo Morales, condemns the lack of consultation prior to adoption of the anti-racism law, the principle of which he approves. Chivi, a government official, deplores the media’s disproportionate and corporativist reaction to the law. Reporters Without Borders is publishing these interviews as a reminder of the terms of the debate. It intends to use the same approach – presentation of contrasting viewpoints – with the future media law.
Bolivia’s intention to introduce legislation regulating the media follows Argentina’s adoption of a law on Audiovisual Communication Services (SCA ) in 2009 and this year’s attempts in Ecuador – currently on hold – to pass a communication law.
We do not criticise the principle of such laws. We supported the Argentinian law because of its extensive provisions for pluralism and for combating the concentration of media ownership in a few hands. We expressed more reserves about the Ecuadorean law because, although based partly on the Argentinian law, it aimed to promote “exact, opportune and contextualized news coverage.”
While laws are needed to regulate the workings of the media and provide them with a legislative framework, we believe that laws will inevitably threaten freedom of expression if they try to determine the content and relevance of a news report. We hope to pursue this debate with those involved.
Interview with Ronald Grebe López
Reporters Without Borders: What is your view of the way Law 045 against racism and all forms of discrimination was proposed and approved?
Ronald Grebe López: It must be pointed that we, the representatives of the journalistic profession, have been repeatedly sidelined this year from the discussions on various laws that relate directly to our work.
No one consulted us during the discussion on the electoral law although election advertising campaigns concern us very closely. As for the law on access to public information, a public hearing was supposed to be held. We had conveyed our observations and comments to the relevant authorities. But then we received no summons and discussion of the bill came to a halt.
During the consultations on Law 045, the National Press Association and the Bolivian Confederation of Press Workers were invited to the government palace but only at the last minute and most of the leaders live in the provinces, so it was hard for them to get to the capital at such short notice.
A few days later, President Evo Morales publicly announced that this law would be approved without any changes, that is to say, including the controversial articles 16 and 23. I must point out that we were in favour of the law against racism but without these two articles. It could have been a model for all of Latin America. But the law was drafted in a rush. Even the original proposal by the parliamentarian Jorge Medina – whose idea it was – was modified and then abandoned. This is the reason for all the protests by journalists and news media.
Why haven’t you been participating in the recent process of drafting the regulations for Law 045?
Right from the outset, the senate [which approved the definitive version] took no account of our proposals. So how could they have listened to us during the process of drafting the regulations, which was conducted directly by the government? It was for this reason that, on the basis of article 11 of the constitution about citizen initiatives, we organized a campaign with the slogan of “One million signatures for freedom of expression.” But we never said we said expected to actually reach 1 million signatures or even 800,000. So far we have gathered 400,000.
- Either way, the deadline for drafting the regulations is 8 January.
An array of sanctions will clearly be established for journalists and news media. We will read these regulations when they are approved. We will have to analyze them. Then we will emphasize the campaign for freedom of expression and the citizen legislative initiative. And if that does not work, we will turn to international bodies.
Interview with Idón Chivi
Reporters Without Borders: What has been the outcome of the process of proposing and approving Law 045 against racism and all forms of discrimination?
Idón Chivi: After Law 045 was promulgated on 8 October, we carried out nine days of consultations, one in each geographical department, about how it should be regulated. We received 300 verbal and written suggestions, and three complete proposals from the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Network and the Erbol Network.
As regards the media, the technical team in charge of drafting the regulations focussed on two points: “the dissemination and endorsement of racist messages” and “the manifest will or intention of disseminating racist ideas.” As technical staff, we can discuss the disciplinary and administrative aspects. But the other aspect, concerning article 23 [merging the relevant criminal code provisions into Law 045], is up to the judiciary, not to us. One of the subjects that we are discussing, for example, is the temporary suspension or definitive withdrawal of licences from radio and TV stations.
As our model we have used the laws of Spain, Argentina and other countries that penalize the dissemination of racist ideas. We also have a recommendation from Denis Racicot, the representative in Bolivia of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which says that media freedom must not be used for discriminatory or racist purposes.
- How to you view the current conflict about this law?
Let us not forget that to get to this law and its regulation, we have had to go through the events of 11 November 2007 [clashes between students and peasants in Cochabamba), 24 May 2008 [harassment and humiliation of peasants by students in the centre of Sucre] and 11 September 2008 in Pando [massacre of 10 peasants]. These painful events showed that certain elite sectors still harbour racist attitudes. Hence the government’s decision to discuss and approve this law.
Some news media spend up to 16 hours a day sending messages criticising this law. What’s more, the controversy has proved to be very profitable for media that practice racism, because the government has had to explain the law and respond to certain insinuations, and this has resulted in publicity for these media.
It has been interesting for us to note that for the most part the public is not worried about the media’s freedom of expression, because 78 per cent of the suggestions we received during the visits to the departments were about racism in education, the public administration and other matters. Only 22 per cent of the proposals referred to journalism.
- What do you think of the protests by journalists and media owners?
The journalists are divided, because it is very clear that some of them, ANP members, participated in the discussion about the law’s regulations and many of them submitted very specific proposals. In the case of the media, there is more unity. But it is very clear that the businessmen who own the media are the ones who decide their editorial line. The presenters, especially TV presenters, are just political operatives.
- What will happen after Law 045’s regulations are approved?
As regards offences of an administrative nature, journalists and news media will have to accept what laid down in the regulations. And as regards criminal offences, it will be up to the prosecutors and the judges to try them. No other outcome will be possible.
In the discussions and debate about Law 045, the media reacted in a more corporativist manner than they have to other legislation in the past. We will begin drafting the media law after 8 January. We have just taken the first step.