Stringent Restrictions on Press Proposed; Media Cry Foul, Say Rules Amount to Censorship

Article excerpt

Byline: Martin Arostegui, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia - Bolivia's new government has proposed legislation tightening regulations on the press, prompting fears of censorship among government critics and journalists.

Representatives of the ruling Movement to Socialism (MAS) maintain that the measures would affect only television and other electronic content considered "harmful to society."

"It's a law intended to make the communications media work more responsible toward society," said MAS deputy Ivan Canelas, who is drafting the legislation.

Julio Cesar Caballero, host of one of Bolivia's leading TV talk shows, said he worries that the government is heading toward totalitarianism.

"We already have laws protecting individual dignity, invasion of privacy and other abuses to which MAS refers," he said. "I'm afraid that the new law is geared toward limiting freedom of expression."

Mr. Canelas said the purpose of the legislation was to curtail shocking and violent images on television and sensational accusations on the Internet.

The regulations also contemplate stiff jail sentences for revealing confidential official information.

The new government's suspicion of the broadcast media dates from the election campaign, in which President Evo Morales accused private TV networks of being at "the service of the oligarchy" and waging "media terrorism" against MAS.

Broadcasts often showed MAS rallies in an unfavorable light, focusing on violent incidents, images of drunks and coca-chewing Indians. Mr. Morales and his party were accused on the Internet of having links with narcotics traffickers.

"Control of the media has been a stated objective of Evo Morales," said a TV news executive, who asked not to be identified.

Members of Bolivia's leading press associations also fear that the government will use the measures to manipulate news coverage.

Some critics compare the proposed legislation to the Law of Social Responsibility in Radio and Television that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez enacted in his country a year ago. …