Written by Maya I. Davletshina and Geliya S. Filatkina

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  • Area: 1.098.581 square kilometers
  • Population: 10.702.000 Mio (2016)
  • Capital: Sucre (constitutional), La Paz (administrative)
  • State form: unitary multiparty republic
  • Official languages: Spanish, Quechua, Aymara, Guarani
  • Religion: Catholics (76 per cent), Protestants (17 per cent)
  • Flag of Bolivia

    When Evo Morales (the first indigenous leader of Bolivia) became president in 2006, the perspective of media freedom has become much brighter. First he changed the Constitution in 2009, the rights to freedom of speech and information were improved. Moreover, he created media for the indigenous community in their native languages. Morales also encouraged the passage of the so-called Anti-racism Law (2010), so rights of indigenous people would not be abused anymore. However, now all these inventions are criticized by journalists and people who are somehow affected because of the abuse of the Anti-racism Law and of the governments authority.
    Today Bolivia is still a poor Latin American country with a low literacy level. That is why the radio is still the most important source of information all around the country. Bolivia has almost 2000 diverse radio stations, which include educational information, programs for women, children and the indigenous community. Only four radio stations (including one state-owned) cover the whole country. Bolivia has almost 60 newspapers, 12 of them can be considered as the dominant ones. It also has 500 television stations, 7 of them are the biggest, including state-owned Bolivia TV. Internet is still a luxury resource, available only in big cities and only for the middle class. Many areas are still without Internet or even mobile phone coverage.
    Communication policy and regulations
    The citizen and journalists’ freedom of expression is protected by the Bolivia’s Plurinational State Constitution, the Penal Code, as well as other laws and decrees (UNESCO, 2016). The Articles 106 and 107 of the Constitution (enacted in 2009) guarantees “the right of Bolivians to communication and information, to freedom of expression, opinion and information, to rectification and reply, and the right to freely publish ideas by whatever means of dissemination, without prior censorship” (Constitution, 2009: 29).
    The Constitution of Bolivia obliges the public means of communication to contribute to the promotion of the ethical, moral and civic-minded values of the different cultures of the country with the production and dissemination of multi-lingual educational programs and in an alternative language for the disabled. Information and opinions issued by the mass media must respect the principles of truth and responsibility. These principles shall be put into practice through the rules of ethics and self-regulation of the organizations of journalists. The Bolivian Constitution also forbids forming, either directly or indirectly, private monopolies or oligopolies.
    The Print Law (enacted in 1925) is grounded mainly in freedom of expression, both for journalists and readers. The first Article of the law states that all the Bolivians have the right to publish their thoughts in the press, without prior censorship, except for restrictions established by the present law.
    As for censorship, the Bolivia’s Plurinational State Constitution, the Print Law and the Supreme Decree for the trade union column forbid previous censorship; but the Special Regime of Propaganda for Justice Authorities Elections (Articles 80 to 84 from Elections Law) applies a previous censorship when it asks citizen, media or postulants not to make any statement before neither during the elections. In fact, during the 2010 elections, most media decided not to interview candidates and some newspapers preferred to block or control comments of users in their electronic editions (UNESCO, 2016).
    There is also the Law of Telecommunication and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), adopted in 2011, which establishes antitrust and forbids the allocation of radio or TV licenses.
    Over 80 per cent of all Bolivian media are private owned and 20 per cent of the media depend on communities, church and the state (UNESCO, 2016). The percentages of frequencies distributed for each sector were established in the Law on Telecommunications: 33 per cent for the State, 33 per cent for the private-commercial sector, 17 per cent for social-community media and 17 per cent for indigenous media.
    Bolivia does not have an explicit advertising regulation. There is not any regulation law for the defense of consumers. The governments advertising distribution is not monitored strictly. In Bolivia there is no specific law on this point. The government’s advertising is assigned, besides official (newspaper Cambio, TV network Bolivia TV) and community media, to the most important urban private media (with more audience) rather than other media. Usually these media are close to the government (for example, the La Razón newspaper or TV network ATB). The government advertising is a huge economic support for Bolivian media.
    The Communication Ministry of Bolivia is the executive and administrative instance for Public Media; but this ministry does not have legal autonomy because it receives economic support from the National Treasure Budget and its minister is named by the President.
    According to UNESCO, Journalists’ associations and trade unions of Bolivia have Ethic Codices. The Journalism Ethics National Court, which depends on the main journalism organizations in the country, has socialized the self-regulation mechanisms with journalists and citizen (UNESCO, 2016).
    The Law against racism and any form of discrimination was enacted by President Evo Morales on 10 October 2010. The Law basically prohibits discrimination by public institutions and individuals through advertising, signs, mass media, etc (Articles 16 and 23). The law also includes sanctions against media if they disseminate «racist and discriminatory ideas», with the penalty of a temporary ban for up to one year. The problem is that this law helps government to shut down media, which publishes materials that the government loosely defines as racist. Journalists organized street protests collecting people’s signatures for canceling the articles, but their voices weren’t heard until now.
    Historical aspects
    The war of independence in Upper Peru (modern Bolivia) began on May 1809, however the independence from Spain was achieved only in 1825, much later than in other Latin American countries.
    The first periodical appeared in Upper Peru was Boletín official, which was published in La Paz in August 1823. However some researchers of the Bolivian press believe that the first periodical of this country was Boletín del Ejército Expedicionario del Perú Libertador del Sur, which saw the light under the management of Andrés de Santa Cruz in June 1823 in Arica (Ocampo Moscoco, 1978: 33).
    The «large press» appeared in Bolivia at the end of 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. El Diario was one of the first newspapers of this type. It appeared in La Paz in April 1904. Now it is the oldest Bolivian newspaper. (Contribución a la historia del periodismo, 1962: 56). Radio as a technological invention appeared in Bolivia in 1929. Television broadcasting appeared in 1969.
    The period of military dictatorship began in Bolivia in the early 1970s when the army overthrew the government of the left-leaning military officers. It lasted intermittently until 1982. The Bolivian military offices discredited themselves not only by repressions against people, corruption and inefficient management, but also involvement in drug trafficking. Since 1982 Bolivia began returning to the democratic rule.

    Present day
    In 2006 there was the first case in Bolivia’s history when the presidential election was won by the representative of the indigenous people (Aymara) Evo Morales Ayma. He became the first representative of the indigenous people of America who leads Bolivia for more than 400 years, since Spanish colonization. «From the beginning of 2006, the Bolivian government attempts building a ‘social democracy’, or ‘democracy with a human face’ as the president calls his political course», says Julia Vaschenko, researcher at the CIDES-UMSA (La Paz) and secretary at the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Bolivia .
    Under Morales government the new Constitution was enacted in 2009. It approved the new political system, declared all native languages of Bolivia as official state languages, and proclaimed the new official name of the Bolivian state – the Plurinational State of Bolivia.
    Bolivia indeed is one of the most multicultural countries in the world: it is home to 41.7 per cent of Indians (Quechua – 18.3 per cent, Aymara – 15.9 per cent, other – 7.5 per cent) and 58.3 per cent of other (mestizo, white, black) (Big Russian Encyclopedia, 2012). This contributes to a great linguistic diversity: 25 per cent of Bolivians speak Quechua, 11 per cent speak Aymara and about 1 per cent speak Guarani. In total there are 37 official languages in Bolivia nowadays. In addition, Bolivians settle in the territory of the country unevenly: 85 per cent of the population lives in the highlands. Of course, this creates certain difficulties in the production and distribution of mass media products.
    The analyst and researcher at the Galician Institute of Analysis and International Documentation (IGADI) Roberto Mansilla notices, that «most of Bolivians have low purchasing power. In some areas there are problems with literacy. Despite the large percentage of the native people, a small number of media in indigenous languages circulates in Bolivia. These factors influence the level of press consumption (only 14 copies per 1.000 inhabitants). Daily newspapers are concentrated in large cities (La Paz, Sucre, Cochabamba), where the level of purchasing power of the population is rather high. In rural areas these problems are especially noticeable».

    Media offers
    Broadcast TV
    Television in Bolivia has an influence mostly on urban homes unlike any other form of mass media. Half of the adult population watches an average of three hours of television per day. However, in the rural areas television isn’t so popular, because of the bad access and a low literacy level (not everyone in Bolivia can understand the Spanish language, especially indigenous communities). According to UNESCO, about 69 per cent of the Bolivian households have at least one TV. This index is higher than the similar index of only three Latin American countries – Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala (UNESCO, 2016).
    Nearly 500 channels were created since 1985, but they have done little to diversify programming or generate content relevant to Bolivian society and culture. These channels are mostly privately owned, except for one government-owned station (Bolivia TV) and several belongings to major government universities. Only the Bolivia TV channel can be considered as truly national, because of broadcasting to all areas.
    Access to cable television is still limited in Bolivia, but growth is considerable. Companies offer packages of South American feeds from major world networks such as CNN, BBC, MTV, Nickelodeon, and Latin American, European and U.S. programming. According to Roberto Mansilla, in Bolivia cable TV is available only for upper class and upper middle class. Just as La Paz has maintained its dominance over print media, Santa Cruz has been able to harness the power of television.
    Bolivia is also one of the sponsors of the only Pan-American TV channel – teleSUR (La Nueva Televisora del Sur).
    The most important channels in Bolivia are ATB Red Nacional, Universal de Televisión, Red Bolivisión, Red Uno, Red de Periodistas Asociados de Televisión, Radio y Televisión Popular, Bolivia TV, Cadena A, teleSUR etc.

    The most important source of information in Bolivia is radio. In Bolivia there are almost 2000 radio stations throughout the country. TV stations in Bolivia have signals only in big or average cities; however, radio is spread all around the country, which puts Bolivia on the fourth position in Latin America with the highest radio penetration rate after Chile, Uruguay and Brazil. More than 85.4 per cent of households are equipped with at least one radio (UNESCO, 2016).
    Many radio programs are broadcasted in Spanish as well as in the two dominant indigenous languages, Quechua and Aymara.
    One of the major state radio networks – El Sistema de Radios de Pueblos Originarios (PROs) – numbers 49 radio stations, which broadcast not only in Spanish, but also in some native indigenous languages (Quechua, Aymara, Guarani, Mohéno, Chacoyo and Chiquitano). In total, there are 80 radio stations in the indigenous languages (UNESCO, 2016). «Radio has a nationwide coverage. However, most of the radio stations are controlled by the Catholic church», Roberto Mansilla confirmed.
    Around 80 per cent of radio stations are private, but still there are a handful stations run by local organizations, government or other groups.
    In 2012 the Vice Ministry of Telecommunications enacted the National Frequency Plan that obligates all FM radio operators to change their frequencies in order to give space to new radio stations for indigenous community.
    Independent community stations are about four percent of the total number of radio stations. These stations are gaining popularity with Morales as an indigenous president and they are overall more popular within indigenous communities. Unfortunately, they often have only basic technical equipment and lack of professionals, because most of the stations are run by people who don’t have any journalistic experience or a proper education (Kohn, 2015).
    However, it’s still extremely important for Bolivians, because people not only get information about their local areas, but also can become radio hosts themselves and get new skills. The most important radio stations in Bolivia are Radio Panamericana, Radio Fides La Paz, Radio FM Bolivia, Radio Red Patria Nueva (state-owned), Sistema de Radios de Pueblos Originarios (state-owned).

    Printed Press
    There are almost 60 newspapers in Bolivia. Only 12 of them could be considered as «large media». These newspapers mostly circulate in big cities such as La Paz, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba. The oldest daily newspaper is El Diario (founded in 1904, circulation nowadays is about 45.000).
    The combined daily circulation of all newspapers in Bolivia is over 300.000.
    A large part of the Bolivian newspapers are located in La Paz. The main La Paz newspapers are La Razón, Página Siete and El Diario. The principal Santa Cruz newspapers include El Deber, El Mundo and El Día. Cochabamba’s main newspapers are Los Tiempos and Opinión.
    In 2009 the Bolivian government launched its own newspaper called Cambio. The daily circulation of Cambio is 4.000 copies, the Sunday circulation is 6.500 copies. As the Director of the Bolivian Agency of Information (ABI) Jorge Rey notices, the Bolivian newspapers quite depend on advertising which brings them the basic income. There are only few big companies and corporations in Bolivia, which can give advertisement ads to the media. So there is a problem for the Bolivian newspapers to find any advertiser inside the country.

    Internet and telecommunications
    In Bolivia there is a triple disadvantage of coverage, speed and cost. Many areas are still without Internet or even mobile phone coverage. The Internet is also very slow and it is still expensive, compared to other Latin American countries. According to Internet World Stats, only 44.1 per cent of the Bolivian population (4.871.000) are Internet users (March 2017). There are 4.600.000 Facebook subscribers (June 2016).
    Most people use mobile Internet, but others use it only at work or at Internet cafes, most of them are located in big cities.
    Internet is spread only between middle class and people who live in big cities and can afford it. In the rural areas, it’s much harder to get, Roberto Mansilla confirms.
    Nowadays a lot of money is put in modernization of Bolivian telecommunication. The Bolivian national company Entel has offices practically in every city and it provides local, intercity and international calls. Megalink Company provides 90 per cent of network services. The main mobile operators Entel S.A. and Nuevatel P.C. provide almost full coverage for the capital and lowland areas. In the mountainous regions of the country, the mobile services are worse. Some cities have local mobile operators – AES Comunications Bolivia, COTAS, Entel Myvil, Entel S.A., TELECEL, etc.
    Journalists' autonomy
    Poor working conditions
    According to UNESCO (2016), Bolivian journalists living in small cities have a relatively low access to digital technologies rather than journalists in big cities such as La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz. Communitarian media do not have good infrastructure or technical capabilities. In general the Bolivian journalists have a low income and a bad working schedule (Jorge Rey).
    Bolivian researcher and President of The Journalism Ethics National Court (CNEP) Erick Torrico confirms: «Bolivian journalism does not have the condition required for its good functioning. In addition to problems related with the political situation and legal features neither working conditions, no training and re-training of specialists are optimal for today».
    According to UNESCO (2016), journalists of Bolivia are victims of physical and oral violence, some anonymous attacks or threats. Most of them stay unpunished. The journalistic coverage of political and conflict situations remains the most dangerous and complex. The UNESCO’s report also underlines that in some cases journalists apply self-censorship because of fear of losing their job or external threats related to some news published.
    This partly corresponds with the ONADEM’s survey about journalists’ working conditions, which concluded that almost 70 per cent of journalists in Bolivia «do not feel pressured» by their media outlet to cover any particular situation. However, 22 per cent of them confirmed that they have been asked by their boss to change the contents of news even though it was properly done. 17 per cent of the surveyed had been asked not to consult some source. 82 per cent answered they had not been asked to present any particular testimony (Hurtado, 2009: 195-200). However, Jorge Rey considers that there are quite good and safe working conditions for the Bolivian journalists in the country.

    Journalistic profession
    According to UNESCO (2016), most journalists in Bolivia have studied mass communication at universities, but this education does not focus mainly on journalism. Moreover. Usually the professors do not have a successful journalistic career behind them.
    As Jorge Rey says, the first career of social communication in Bolivia began at the Catholic University of Bolivia «San Pablo» in the early 1970s.
    Nowadays there are no journalism degrees at bachelor’s level in Bolivia. Journalism is not a sphere of knowledge emphasized by universities or required by students. Only four of the 44 degree programs in Communication and Public Relations in Bolivia are oriented towards journalism. The rest have no particular emphasis on Journalism or do focus on other fields. Proper education is accessible only for journalists who work and live in big cities. For students and social leaders who live in rural communities there are some distance learning universities.
    The post-graduate journalistic education is practically non-existent and sporadic. Moreover, there is not any sufficient interest from students to open such a course, the journalists’ salary is rather low, working conditions and lifestyle prevent them from engaging in post-graduate studies.
    As for gender aspect, there are only few media in which women work in senior positions. As a rule, editorial offices and journalistic organizations are managed by men. In La Paz men reach over 71 per cent of the journalistic staff, while women compose only one third (29 per cent) (Poma & Villegas, 2008). The trend can be also seen in the area of television: the Bolivian television presenters are also male dominated (58 per cent) with fewer women (42 per cent).
    It is also important to emphasize the degree of confidence of Bolivians in mass media. According to Latinobarometro, radio, television and newspapers are located in the fourth, fifth and seventh places accordingly in the rank of the confidence of Bolivians in social institutions (Latinobarometro, 2013). The government, president and juridical system take rank lower. In comparison with the total rank of Latin America, the indicators of Bolivia are quite high.
    Roberto Mansilla confirms, «the report of Latinobarometro says that 69 per cent of Bolivians regard as ‘good’ and ‘very good’ the work of national media» (the average index in Latin America is 68 per cent). However, «according to the survey of the Foundation UNIR, the profession of journalist in Bolivia, in fact, is not very prestigious and privileged». Erick Torrico clarifies, «the prestige and credibility of the profession of journalist in Bolivia are influenced with not only the circumstances of political polarization, but also the low level of application of professional standards. The last point takes place since the second part of the nineties». Torrico notices that the Journalism Ethics National Court, which works in Bolivia since 2010, attempts to provide professional activities for journalists coordinating it with the norms of human rights.

    Media concentration
    Almost 80% of Bolivian media are private owned. As Jorge Rey notices, there are four outlets, which belong to the Bolivian State: newspaper Cambio, Bolivia TV, Patria Nueva radio network and Bolivian Information Agency (ABI).
    In 1982 the period of dictatorship in Bolivia had finished and until the middle of 1980s there were not any big media companies. The only exception was the church, which remained the main media holder even during the beginning of privatization in the late 1980s. The church owned radio stations, TV channels and community publishing houses, which belonged to the Office for Social Communication of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
    In 1985 there were 35 private media in Bolivia, by 1990 this number increased to 109. At this time foreign media companies began to penetrate the Bolivian media landscape, for example the Spanish group PRISA, the Italian company STET and the Canadian holding Multivision Communication Corporation.
    Nowadays several families in Bolivia control some quite powerful media companies. The Garafulic family is considered to own the biggest media company in Bolivia. From the beginning of 2000 the family created the TV network Red Universal (today ATB Red Nacional) which was associated with the Mexican conglomerate Televisa. They also control the net of cable TV Sistemas de Televisivos (SISTEL), the operator of mobile telephony Telecel and other companies. Garafulic group also owns such newspapers as La Razón, El Día and La Opinión.
    The Kuljis family owns the television network la Red Uno de Bolivia based in La Paz. Among its assets, there is the Channel 13, which was the first private channel in Bolivia from its start in 1983. The family also has the newspaper El Mundo, channel Mágico 42, agency Publideas, publishing house Oriente S.A.
    The group Líder is equally important. As Roberto Mansilla says, this group was created in an attempt to suspend the consolidation of the Garafulic group. So, various family-owners of Bolivian newspapers joined for this reason. They own the regional newspapers El Deber (Santa Cruz), El Norte, El Potosí, Los Tiempos (Cochabamba), El Nuevo Sur, El Alteño (Los Altos).
    There are other smaller companies. The family of Carlos Palenque (famous Bolivian musician, singer, politician, businessman and TV host) controls Radio Televisión Popular (RTP), the radio station Metropolitana and the newspaper La Patriota. The group Panamericana has radio businesses. It is owned by ex-Ambassador of Bolivia in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, Miguel Dueri, who also manages casinos and the Discolandia company. Group Asbun owned the channel Bolivisión (Cochabamba), but was subsequently bought by American-Mexican businessman Ángel González.
    It is necessary to mention the Bolivian political parties. The party Acción Democrática Nacional (ADN) controls Radio Libertad, the newspaper network in La Paz, the television channels TV5 (Oruro and Beni, Santa Cruz, La Paz). The political party Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionaria (MIR) also has its own newspaper Hoy in La Paz, the Channel 24 and radio FM Ciudad in El Alto. The State-owned oil and gas company Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales de Bolivia (YPFB) also is one of the actors inside the Bolivian media system.

    Media Freedom in Bolivia
    According to Freedom House Bolivia is partly free. It ranks 68 in the press freedom score and it has the 90th position out of 195 (Freedom House, 2016). «The result сan be explained by saying that in Bolivia there are media of opposition the party Movement for Socialism (MAS). The correlation between pro-state and opposition media can be seen as 80:20. That’s why we can say that in Bolivia there are opposition media, but to say that Bolivia has a high level of media freedom would be an exaggeration», Julia Vaschenko says.
    Reporters without borders claims that Bolivia has the 107th place in the World Press Freedom Index (2016). It also says that in Bolivia «media are advised to refrain from any negative comments about the government headed by Evo Morales, who has been the president since 2006» (Reporters Without Borders, 2016).
    The correspondent of the Russian newspaper Kommersant Pavel Tarasenko says that «the life of independent media in Bolivia isn’t easy. As National Association of Bolivian press claims in 2016 there were 59 cases of “verbal, physical aggression” directed to independent journalists and photographers. Journalists are accused of spreading fake information, betrayal of the country and working for Washington. The same rhetoric is used by all authoritarian or semi-authoritarian governments, which aren’t interested in creating a dialog and trying by all means to stay in power».
    The media freedom in Bolivia is a very controversial subject. The Bolivian Constitution (2009) guarantees freedom of speech and a right to information. However, in reality it faces contradictory realities. According to the research of UNIR Bolivia (Analyses of media development in Bolivia, 2011) there is a large deficit in “the creation of normative base that stimulates freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of mass media”. «This fact confirms problems and difficulties existing in the country in terms of creating mechanisms that help to provide transparent and unbiased information», Roberto Mansilla suggests.

    Evo Morales and Bolivian Media
    During his ongoing presidency Evo Morales has developed a complicated relationship with media. When he became a president in 2006, the country’s tone changed toward a greater perspective for freedom of media, speech, information and indigenous rights. Evo Morales’s government tried to prevent media concentration, which nowadays is around 85 per cent (almost all private media are in the hands of a few family-owners). For example the news agency ABI, state newspaper Cambio, more indigenous media were created. However, the problem of these inventions is, that they all have a pro-government point of view. According to Latinobarómetro, only 22 per cent of Bolivians believe in real media freedom in their country (Latinobarometro, 2013). The average index of all Latin American continent is 24 per cent. Nevertheless, Roberto Mansilla still thinks that Bolivians nowadays have more diverse media and media freedom than it was before.
    «In spite of the Constitution’s guarantees of media freedom, in reality journalists face limitations. In general it is all connected to Morales’s government, which from the first day has decided to prevent any criticism, which comes from the media and even is considered as a ‘betrayer’ of the political course, which is defined as ‘socialist’, ‘sovereign’, ‘anti-imperialist’», Erick Torrico opposes.
    The relationship between the government and the media in Bolivia isn’t easy. For example, the Anti-racism law is sometimes used as a reason to shut down opposing media outlets or just control them. The situation is also complicated because of the low purchasing power of the people. That is why the government advertising contracts can be used as a controlling tool.
    «There are two main difficulties in the functioning of private media in Bolivia – the cancellation of publications that include any information or opinions opposing official course of the country and discredit of journalists and the media which provided this information. Another one is an arbitrary distribution of government advertising contracts, which are used as a mechanism of rewarding. The law against discrimination also has an influence on the journalists’ work», Erick Torrico confirms.
    This country report is largely based on six interviews, which have been conducted by the authors in summer 2017. The authors thank all the interviewees for their support.

    Interviewed experts (via email, WhatsApp)
    Recommended citation form
    Maya I. Davletshina/Geliya S. Filatkina: Bolivia. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date).

    In the streets of La Paz

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