More than half of Bolivian journalists have suffered censorship and self-censorship

By Daniel Cruz

More than half of journalists in Bolivia said they have suffered censorship and/or self-censorship during their professional lives, according to a presentation by researcher Virginie Poyetton on April 16 on her new book “Journalistic censorship and self-censorship in Bolivia. A perspective from within the profession itself,” reported newspaper Opinión.

According to Poyetton’s study, 54 percent of journalists who were interviewed admitted to being censored during the course of their career, while 59 percent admitted to self-censorship. Eighty-three percent said they knew of colleagues who had been censored, which could indicate an even larger number in cases of censorship, the investigator said in an article about the study.

“Freedom of the press is one of the most important requirements for the existence of a pluralist democracy,” Poyetton said. “For this reason, what’s at stake with censorship and self-censorship is the people’s own freedom of expression and information.”

The two main sources of censorship in Bolivian media were national, departmental and local government authorities as well as private and public advertisers. Approximately 28 percent of censored topics generated conflict with the government, while 26 percent affected the interests of advertisers. Another 26 percent of censored topics were those that exposed journalists to lawsuits.

Of the journalists who admitted choosing to not publish their work, the majority (61 percent) said this was due to ethical reasons and stories dealing with topics of children and adolescents, public morale and violent acts. Their opinion on the kind of work their colleagues self-censored was different, with 24 percent of topics impacting advertisers, 17 percent affecting the government and another 17 percent being related to corruption.

Poyetton said this discrepancy could indicate a difficulty from some journalists to recognize they practice self-censorship and that the sources of censorship and self-censorship may actually be more similar than what the journalists' answers suggest.

According to the researcher, the high levels of censorship and self-censorship are due in part to lack of ethical and journalistic training among reporters, uncertainty in their professional field and fear of losing their jobs.

Additionally, 85 percent of journalists interviewed by Poyetton complained about the difficulty of gaining access to official sources, especially the police (62 percent) and armed forces (61 percent).

In her presentation, the researcher emphasized that the solution to the problem of censorship and self-censorship is a “shared responsibility,” according to the newspaper Los Tiempos. Several things are necessary to deal with them: better labor conditions and continuous training for journalists, revenue strategies that guarantee editorial freedom among news media and ownership by the Bolivian people of their right to information and communication.

There is no single way of confronting [these problems] and it would be an illusion to think one single actor, be it political or economic, is responsible for the problem, or that one single action can make [it] disappear,” she said.

Poyetton is a researcher with the NGO Comundo from the Fundación UNIR Bolivia and her book was based on a study with the foundation that included an anonymous survey of 54 journalists from the cities of Santa Cruz, Cochabamba and La Paz.

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.