Bolivian journalists attacked while covering police conflicts

  • By Guest
  • August 1, 2012

Guest post by Carlos Soria Galvarro, associate director for Radio Sur Agricultura and member of the national table of AMARC-Bolivia

A total of 15 attacks against Bolivian journalists and cameramen working for both public and private news media were registered during the police conflict that happened from June 21-26.

The “Monitoring and Surveillance Unit of Freedom of Expression” of the National Press Association provided this data based on a study performed in five cities. Those most affected by the violent events, perpetrated by the insurgent police, were journalists and cameramen of the government's TV and radio stations.

The data gathered indicates that journalists and cameramen of Bolivia TV were attacked after their work was mistaken for government informants. A journalist of the governmental radio station Radio Patria Nueva, Helen San Román, was beaten by police during the protests that occurred at the Murillo Plaza in La Paz. In the city of Oruro, a journalist for the private network PAT, Irene Torrez, was also physically attacked while covering the police conflict. Low-ranking law enforcement officers in charge of public order took over police units in several cities, demanding salary wage increases from the government, the recognition of the right to express complaints, and better work conditions. Their demands were partially attended after intense negotiations.

Conflicts, risky coverage

The events mentioned earlier sadly confirm a tendency that has become true in the last years: journalists are victims of attacks while during their job of covering numerous conflicts that happen in the country.

According to the National Observatory of News Media's database, between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2010, 473 attacks against journalists were registered, mainly in the cities of La Paz and Santa Cruz. More than half of the cases were against television broadcasters, almost 25 percent were against the press, and 16 percent were against radio broadcasters.

About 20 percent of the attackers were social protestors, 16 percent were government supporters, 14 percent were not identified, and 11 percent were police officers. (See “Media in Sight” report about Bolivian journalism from 2005-2008, and “Media in Sight 2,” Analysis about the Right to Information, Communication, and Journalism in Bolivia, 2009-2011. The reports were published by UNIR Foundation).

Citizen's insecurity reaches journalists

On Feb. 25, the bodies of journalists Verónica Peñasco Layme and Víctor Hugo Peñasco Layme were found in the city of El Alto, a city adjacent to La Paz, the Bolivian government's headquarters.

Verónica was the head of the oldest and most prestigious Aymara radio station Radio San Gabriel and program host of “Markasan Arupa” (the people's voice in Aymara), transmitted by TV channel Canal 7- Bolivia Tv. Her younger brother, Víctor Hugo, was anchorman for the educational indigenous radio station Radio Pachaqamasa.

Also, in mid-May, a similar event happened: journalist Eugenio Aduviri, of the sports section for the La Paz newspaper La Razón, was killed during a robbery, when returning from work in the early morning.

Three killed journalists in less than three months. Police investigations determined that both cases were common crimes, of which some of the criminals were captured and are being prosecuted.

Life insurance

The shock left by the killing of the Peñasco Layme siblings motivated the government to establish a law of journalist's life insurance, to be funded with resources that come from advertising.

The unions and business sectors supported this idea, however, the terms to put the law into effect have not been agreed upon because of, among other reasons, the internal crises that press workers union organizations are going through. Meanwhile, journalism businesses were called to provide more security and transportation for their employees, especially for those who work at night.

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.

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