Bolivian government accuses two newspapers of "inciting racism"

Two newspapers and a news agency in Bolivia face charges of "diffusion and incitement of racism or discrimination." The news agency claims it only reported what President Evo Morales said in a speech, reported the newspaper La Razón.

Viceminister of Governmental Coordination Javier Balvideso told La Razón that the Fides News Agency (ANF in Spanish), and the newspapers Página Siete and El Diario published articles that "do not reflect the true intent" of the speech President Morales made on Aug. 15 at the archeological site Tiwanaku.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF in French) provided a copy of Morales' remarks: "In the east, where you can grow crops all year round, you can only be poor or lack food if you lack the determination. But it is different in the Altiplano. There is no food in the Altiplano if it freezes, if there is no rain, or if it hails. But not in the east. You go hungry in the east only if you are lazy."

The controversy started when Morales alleged ANF committed libel against him and announced a possible lawsuit. The offending article, titled, "Evo says the east goes hungry out of 'laziness,'" was based on the president's comments. Later, the government decided to include the newspapers in the charge for publishing the ANF article.

Executive Secretary of the Union Confederation of Bolivian Press Workers (CSTPB) Ramiro Echazú offered his support to the media companies, according to El Diario. CSTPB organized marches in support of the news outlets and freedom of expression in the departments of Chuquisaca, Potosí, Cochabamba, and Tarija

One of the roots of the controversy lies in the Law to Fight Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, passed in October 2010. Critics of the law said that certain articles were poorly worded, allowing the government to censor journalists under the guise of punishing racist or discriminatory remarks. RSF said on its website that while amendments had been passed to clarify the law's ambiguity, the current charges "against these three news media have taken us back to the initial flaws in this law, one which nonetheless has every reason to be on Bolivia’s statute books."

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.