Journalism in Bolivia

Mar 172009

Greetings from Santa Cruz, Bolivia! The carnival is over and routine has come back to the capital of the eastern part of the country. Santa Cruz was paralised for one week, with thousands of people in the street drinking, throwing water and painting the walls, dancing with loud music... It was really crazy.Today starts a very interesting workshop organised by the ABOCCS, the association that integrates the main university graduates in communication, in Santa Cruz. The three-days debate is going to be about journalism as passion and service, and it will turn to be a great occasion to learn new data about journalists’ education in Bolivia, journalism and power and the working conditions of the media professionals. There is a growing concern among teachers because journalism has less and less weight over Bolivian graduate’s curricula, and everyday there are fewer students  interested in journalism. They prefer social communication, a profession that allows you to earn more money with less risks. I will keep you updated.

Talking about risks, the Interamerican Press Society has just released a document denouncing how Evo Morales’ government is attacking systematically the independent press of the country because it considers it to be the enemy of its socialist project.  According to this society, who has met in Asunción (Paraguay), there have been 46 verbal or physical attacks against journalists in the last year.

In fact, we have had several examples of harassment against politicians and journalists during the lasts weeks, and they have come from both sides, the pro-governmental and the anti-Morales’. You have probably heard about how former Vice President Víctor Hugo Cárdenas' house was occupied and his family attacked by members of his village who accuse him of not serving the community properly and of betraying the indigenous people. It happened something similar to Marleny Paredes, a dissident deputy from the MAS, Evo Morales’ political movement, was assaulted and heavily hit by some of her neighbours when she was arriving home, in Yungas. In Santa Cruz, there has been a lot of fuss after the mayor, Percy Fernández, verbally attacked a journalist from the TV channel Unitel when she was trying to ask him about several defincies in the city. He was really rude, and the Press Worker’s Federation asked for an investigation and some kind of sanction against the mayor, including a psychriatic exam. Two days after that, a newspaper called El Mundo published strong accusations against the federation’s executive secretary. Journalists from Santa Cruz are really worried about how to preserve the independence and good image of the institutions that represent them. Finally in Pando, the amazonic region, journalists are leaving the main cities, because of, according to them, the intimidation they suffer from the MAS's authorities. Newspapers, radio stations and televisions have broadly echoed the last chapters of what is starting to be too usual. No need to say, though, how these events have been used from both sides to turn the other into evil, making the political and journalistic atmosphere hard to breath. But, as somebody told me recently, Bolivia is always on the verge of the abyss, but it never falls into it.

Meanwhile, the ICFJ's project in Bolivia moves on, slowly but steadily, as everything here. Working with Radio Fides and la Federación de Trabajadores de la Prensa de Santa Cruz, we will train the rural journalists from about 16 rural radio stations that are scattered around the region. Finally, we start having dates: the first workshop will be at the beginning of April. We will start with basic radio journalism skills, since one of the main problems in Bolivia is that most journalists outside the big cities have not had specialized training. Then we will move on to specific topics, such as health and education, and, at the end, the digital skills necessary to build the Web site we intend to leave in the region of Santa Cruz.