Article 82 of the electoral law, which contained controversial provisions affecting the media, was modified at the request of President Evo Morales before he promulgated it on 27 May, but the changes did not go far enough and the article needs further revision.
Under the original version of the article, candidates in the elections that choose judges to head four special national courts were banned from giving interviews to the media and from expressing their views in the media or in public forums. The amended version lifts the ban on the candidates but still bans the media from publishing their views. These posts are due to be elected for the first time on 16 October.
“President Morales took the right decision when he requested a revision of Article 82 in an attempt to end the controversy,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Unfortunately, the controversy continues. It is contradictory to allow the candidates to express themselves freely while continuing to ban the media from publishing or broadcasting any opinion pieces about the candidates or giving the candidates space to express their views or present their programmes.
“This means that candidates for senior judicial posts will have the right to speak in the media but the media will not have the right to allow them to speak. Such a contradiction is unsustainable. It also violates the Bolivian constitution and Inter-American jurisprudence, which rule out any form of blanket censorship.”
The government has asked the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to resolve the outstanding issues when it drafts regulations implementing the electoral law, but this is not a satisfactory solution either.
“It is the Electoral Tribunal’s job to oversee polling and vote counting,” Reporters Without Borders added. “It would be exceeding its role if it started setting rules for media coverage during the campaign preceding the elections, especially as it is one of the state institutions involved in the elections. It would be acting as judge and plaintiff at the same time. Another modification of Article 82 is the simplest and fairest solution. There is still time.”
Government broadcasting via “cadena”
Parliament is now considering a draft telecommunications law that will above all regulate the allocation of broadcast frequencies to radio and TV stations. But one of its clauses would allow the government to force all the broadcast media to form a network, known in nearby Venezuela as a “cadena,” to carry presidential speeches live.
Reporters Without Borders usually supports any legislation, such as Argentina’s SCA law, that will result in a fairly apportioned media landscape and corrects excessive concentration of ownership. But we firmly oppose inappropriate use of government messages to disrupt media programming in what is, at bottom, a veiled form of censorship.
“Cadenas” are dangerous if their content, duration and frequency are not strictly regulated. Such regulation is lacking in Ecuador, where public announcements, known as “cadenas,” apply to all radio and TV stations during the week. Presidential speeches, known in Ecuador as “enlaces,” are broadcast on Saturdays and the media can choose whether or not to carry them.
In Venezuela, the term “cadena” is used for the long and frequent presidential speeches that all of the over-the-air TV stations and some cable TV stations are obliged to carry live. This monopolizing of the airwaves has just served to exacerbate the media war and polarization in Venezuela.
Reporters Without Borders is of the view that presidential addresses should not be carried on more than one – state-owned – TV station, while obligatory broadcasting of government messages should in accordance with the nature and importance of each message.
There is even less justification for a system of “cadenas” if fair and pluralist broadcasting legislation is adopted that grants equal status to the three categories of media – state-owned, privately-owned and community.