Impasse: Freedom of Speech, Journalistic Ethics and Bolivia’s National Press Law
August 12, 2016
Bolivia’s National Press Law has become a heated topic of debate. On July 27th, journalist Humberto Vacaflor received a summons for comments in which he unfoundedly accused President Evo Morales of ordering the death of two people in 2002. On a Catholic television program he said: “once I found out that Morales ordered the assassination of the Andrade couple, I wouldn’t even shake his hand.” Vacaflor and Bolivia’s National Press Association have rejected the legitimacy of the summons stating that the country’s press law protects journalists from criminal prosecution. Yet, both the 1925 National Press Law and the country’s Criminal Code, under certain circumstances, permit criminal action against slander, defamation and libel in the press. Members of the Morales administration have indicated an interest in updating the 90-year-old National Press Law, but prominent Bolivian journalists and the National Press Association, reject modifying the law they uphold as a guarantee for journalistic freedom of speech, despite its more problematic stipulations. This dispute highlights longstanding concerns in a contentious government-media relationship including: 1) the need to update Bolivia’s antiquated use of criminal proceedings for libel and slander; and a disconcerting growth in 2) the lack of accountability, veracity and ethics in a significant portion of Bolivia’s political journalism.