Archive for the ‘Journalists’ Category

State of the Press

September 4, 2008

Declaration of the Bolivian Tribunal of Ethics in Journalism 


 A Threatened Nation     


Bolivia has just experienced a traumatic and legally controversial recall plebiscite. Nonetheless, the behavior of the Bolivian people was remarkable. Bolivians went to vote both massively and peacefully, determined to express their right to choose.


But now we are seeing with concern that the worst forecasts about this plebiscite are becoming a tragic reality. The recent riots in Santa Cruz, Sucre, Yacuiba and a painful etcetera, are only a first sample, likely to be followed by even worse events unless the leaders of the Nation change their attitude.


 A new series of events is beginning to unroll with a recent package of government decrees calling Bolivians to vote on a Constitution draft widely considered as irregular. This move requires a law, but it ignores the Legislative Branch.


The journalists are among the first casualties in the brutal combat that covering news has become in Bolivia. They are threatened, insulted and brutally hit without the slightest respect for the role they accomplish for the society.


This is why, anguished by the down-hill way our country is getting at, under the complacent attitude of those who should look for unity and not confrontation, justice and not illegality, righteousness and not complicity with a widespread intolerance that is beginning to surpass its limits, the members of the National Tribunal of Ethics in Journalism, as it kicks off its public activities as a body of self-regulation in journalism,


 


DECLARE



  1. In Bolivia, free press and the safety of journalists are in a serious danger. They have become victims of situations of anarchy tolerated and – worse – instigated, by authorities and groups favoring authoritarianism.

  2. Bolivia offers a desolate legal landscape. The country seems living in a desert where any illegality may happen due to the induced failure of the rule of law by institutions and individuals whose mission is rather to preserve it. 

  3. This landscape is compounded by a situation of moral failure in which corruptors and corrupted work hand in hand.  

  4. Tolerance seems lost smashed by the years-old pernicious practice of disqualifying those that think differently.

  5. The country has fractionalized dangerously. The regions are forced to confrontation as opposing political and economic models promote division wherever they act.

  6. The Government should be a factor of unity, but instead it seems committed to division instead of uniting; it accentuates disagreements instead of genuinely searching to overcome them, It commits illegalities and boasts its power to “legalize” them. Several regions are moving in a direction contrary to the Government’s. Thus the country is strained by forces working for its disintegration rather than its unity. Political opposition forces show no coherence with democracy nor offers believable and convincing hope to citizens.

  7. The condition of fragile legality affecting the nation leaves it paralyzed and citizens unprotected and scared, their hopes diminished.  Uncertainty prevails equally over institutions defending individual and collective freedoms, including the freedom of press.

  8. The President adds to the uncertainty as he announces he will “deepen” a socialism he cannot explain. However, he leads the country to think it is on the brink of a system that failed wherever it was experienced and under which one of the biggest victims was the freedom of expression. It was sunk with no exceptions in an immense Gulag.

  9. It does not comfort citizens to watch their President treated like a pariah within his own country, for he cannot move freely within it.  It is not democratic that after two and a half years as President he has not been able to respond to the press’ legitimate questions in thorough and clarifying press conferences as any democratic leader should.

  10. We watch with awe and fear the recurrent attacks against the media and the multiplication of verbal and physical aggressions on journalists working on news coverage.

  11. The Legislative branch approves decisions that confuse the population, eroding the credibility regarding lawmakers. The claim that the Legislative branch lives under threatening blackmail from extra-legal forces is not enough to dispel that erosion, nor to dissipate suspicions about the integrity of some of its members.

  12. Before this succession of events that have already caused dozens of deaths and hundreds of injuries, and a year practically lost in clashes ever more violent, we want to urge the society, especially journalists, to be alert against the storms that still threaten all of us in Bolivia.

  13. We call upon the President that, out of respect of his Presidential dignity and of those who elected him, he stops insulting journalists. And if he accuses anyone of us, he should do it submitting real evidence, as any President – or any citizen for that matter – should.

  14. Imbued by these motivations, we call upon the Legislative Branch to immediately start designating, for the sake of its own redemption, an honest and reliable Constitutional Tribunal, committed to Justice, as the first step to put again the nation on a firm institutional path.

  15. We reiterate to journalists that their best defense is their professional integrity and the persisting search of true, balanced and full information, thus helping the Bolivian society to better see its horizons and find civilized ways of overcoming its present difficulties.

 


La Paz, September 1,  2008

Discordances

January 2, 2008

 As many people in Bolivia, I disagree with the MAS constitutional draft because it was brought to life ilegally. It will still be a draft as long as a plebiscite does not confirm it. But it was sanctioned out of its legal matrix, Sucre, and in a venue totally unfit for a country that has suffered the atrocities of military dictatorships__  in a military academy. Adding offense to the wound, the government assembly members vanished at down Nov. 24 as though aware of having committed something illegal. They reconvened in Oruro where, assisted by colleagues who acted like orchestra directors, they passed the draft in one single night (over 400 articles). Besides, it happened without calling members within agreed notice and without distributing the text to discuss and approve. Conclusion: False and tortuous the beginning, false and tortuous the end.

This should be known by those who believe the Bolivian process has been pristine.

A constitution is a pact that a whole country subscribes to rule itself. In this game there should not be majorities imposing their will over a minority. Assumingly it was not a war (or was it?).  Besides, the six percentage points of Mr. Morales and his party victory two years ago (53.7% vs. 47.3%) might have well have vanished by now.

MAS CPE included not a single article from opposing forces. It was all plainly ready for MAS yes-members.  At this stage, I would love to know if Sen. Peredo or the government leader at the assembly Santos Ramirez would be able to recite Art. 1 by memory, and explain it to their audience.

I like even less arts.107 and 108 regarding freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The draft I have (it is said the real original has been altered many times__ which makes it even more illegal, if that is possible), seems a minestrone of concepts that I am not sure it does exist displayed in that way in any democratic country.

Both articles are written on a lethally vague way (or was it deliberate?). Thwarting free expression means crippling democracy.  As a journalist I feel outraged by those articles.

I would like to know also in which countries it is stated by constitution that the media must “promote  the ethical, moral and civic values of the diverse cultures in the country with the production and publication of educational pluri-lingual programs…” (Poor multi-ethnic India, Canada or Brazil, I would say.)

If this is the kind of change that will be imposed in Bolivia, it is better to stick to the old 1925 press law.

What other changes? Oil nationalization hasn´t happened, according to technical criteria, although nobody denies that the drastic change in percentages benefitting Bolivia has been positive. But it wasn´t necessary to withstand eighteen months of tribulations without knowing where would Bolivia get investments to meet current export agreements with Brazil and Argentina.

What else? The bonuses for elders and primary school students? Nobody would honestly oppose them, but I wonder about their sustainability over time.

Let´s agree there are good points in the MAS draft, but to propose them it wasn´t necessary irrigating gasoline all over the country.

One also disagrees with the government insistence in placing autonomy and separatism on the same level.  I don´t like a bit the cynical statement by a high government official  saying that Dec.15 rally of Santa Cruz cívicos consisted or “five or ten families”. Maybe all he wanted was to hide the fact that there were by far much more attendants in Santa Cruz (tens of thousands, easily) to approve autonomic statutes than in La Paz to approve the MAS draft. His was a blatant lie.

On the other hand, I don´t like the Autonomous statutes because I don´t think they had been debated enough in forums, university campuses, academy groups, labor unions, etc. It was a matter of setting a difference with MAS. On one side, they are at least clear and articulated. But they should have been born fully legally. There are no specific laws dealing with autonomy. Then it would have had to wait. But over all they should have shown superiority not only in their conceptualization but in their moral consistency throughout open debate across all society segments. That would have shown a difference with MAS´s draft. 

As many other people, I don’t like “ponchos rojos”  brutality reminiscent of the blind violence Shining Path. I don´t like either the clash militia-like groups of the Santa Cruz Civic Committee.

It is a pity that President Morales had accused US Ambassador of conspiring against his government presenting as a proof a color photo of him and a Colombian citizen at a Fair in Santa Cruz. Nobody had enough political clout to tell him: “That picture is no proof at all. Stop showing it. Let´s be serious.”  

A country cannot go on under a who-makes- it- worse dynamics. Let´s hope for a brighter political interaction in 2008.