Attacks, threats, censorship, and harassment by the government and pro-government forces constantly violate press freedom. Attacks against journalists, especially by the police, are becoming increasingly frequent.
The Bolivian government controls many newspapers and has stepped up monitoring of critical media, especially on social media. Ownership of privately owned media is highly concentrated, which jeopardises pluralism. The leading newspapers are El Deber and El Diario, while Canal Sur is the most popular TV channel. Self-censorship is one of the consequences of the ties that exist between media owners and the government.
A period of political turmoil and instability caused by President Evo Morales’ resignation and forced exile at the end of 2019, and concluded with the election of Luis Arce and his investiture in November 2020, was marked by numerous abuses against the press, including intimidation, harassment, threats, physical assaults, theft of equipment, and radio and TV censorship. There is now a trivialisation of stigmatisation, with journalists facing verbal harassment and damage to their reputation.
Journalists who are considered troublesome are regularly victims of judicial harassment. Under Supreme Decree 181, adopted in 2009, journalists who “lie,” “play party politics”, or “offend the government” may be deprived of government advertising. Together with arbitrary arrests and a high level of impunity, this results in a climate that fosters self-censorship throughout the country. Many killings of journalists have gone unpunished. Victims include Verónica and Victor Hugo Peñaso Layme, who were murdered in 2012.
Bolivia has the biggest reserves of natural resources – including natural gas and lithium – in Latin America, but it is also the region’s poorest country. Major services are provided by foreign private capital and much of the economy is informal. Media linked to the government enjoy privileges but independent media are exposed to strong economic pressure, especially the threat of withdrawal of state advertising, which can have drastic consequences and lead to their closure. As a result, journalists face job insecurity.
Violence against journalists has become more common, with the attacks coming from government supporters or politicians. The Catholic Church has historically maintained a strong presence in the media and has a varied and extensive network of influence throughout the country.
Physical attacks against journalists have intensified since 2020, especially in rural areas. Many radio and TV stations have had their premises vandalised and have been forced to interrupt their activities. The case of seven journalists in Santa Cruz de la Sierra who, while covering land conflicts, were abducted and tortured by a civilian armed group, remains unpunished. At least 25 journalists were attacked by police while covering a major strike in Santa Cruz in November 2022.