Bolivia approves law to increase state control of media, permit wiretapping

On Thursday, July 28 the Bolivian Senate approved the controversial Telecommunications, Information Technology and Communication Law. The law gives the state majority control of electronic media, according to local press.

Article 11 of the law assigns 33 percent of the broadcast spectrum to both the state and private sector, 17 percent to social and community-based groups, and 17 percent to indigenous peoples and peasants.

Private media dominated the airwaves with more than 90 percent of the operating licenses but the new law will reduce their participation to 33 percent, according to BBC Mundo. The Bolivian Broadcasters Association told the El Nacional newspaper that 400 of the Andean country's 680 registered radio stations will have to close to meet the new distribution of operating licenses.

Critics of the law said that President Evo Morales would control 66 percent of the airwaves thanks to his relationship with indigenous and community-based organizations. Supporters of the law, however, asserted that it would democratize communication in Bolivia.

Article 111 of the law permits intervening with telephone conversations in cases of national security, threats from abroad or disasters. It also obliges telecommunications providers to cooperate with authorities when asked to provide information.

Opposition Senator Bernard Gutiérrez told the newspaper Los Tiempos that the law legalizes wiretapping and worried about the possibility that politicians and journalists would be subject to undue scrutiny under the guise of national security concerns.

"Since he has assumed power, Morales' government has substantially increased its participation in the press through the newspaper Cambio, opened more than 30 communitarian radio stations with financing from Venezuela, fortified the Patria Nueva radio network and the state-run television station Bolivia TV," BBC Mundo reported.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.