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Journalists protest proposed law in Bolivia that would outlaw reporting on acts, opinions deemed racist

October 5, 2010 | 11:11 am

Bolivia racism law lower house los tiempos

Journalists and media organizations in Bolivia are protesting a proposed law that would make it illegal for them to report opinions or acts considered racist, calling it a campaign to censor the news media under the government of Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales.

News media workers held demonstrations in 11 Bolivian cities on Friday against portions of the proposed Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, which Morales was strongly backing. The law would allow the government to shut down media outlets and even jail journalists for printing or broadcasting racist material, reports Los Tiempos (link in Spanish).

The government says the measure is meant to help erase Bolivia's long history of oppression and racism toward indigenous groups. Morales, a former coca-leaf grower first elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009, is an Aymara Indian. During the U.N. General Assembly in New York last month, he defended the proposed law by recalling discrimination faced by his mother and racially charged attacks against him in opposition media sources, reported the Americas Quarterly blog.

"They said, 'That Indian president, we have to kill him,' " Morales told blogger Kate Prengel. "Would you tolerate that? ... If this is the way they talk about the president, how will they treat the ordinary campesino?"

But journalists and media groups worry that the law would be used as a tool of censorship. An early draft of the measure maintains that "media outlets that empower or publish racist or discriminatory ideas could be subject to fines and the suspension of their operating license," reports the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, citing news sources in Bolivia.

The law passed Bolivia's lower house and was currently being debated in the Senate, where lawmakers have invited journalists to discuss the measure. A vote is expected later this month.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Members of Bolivia's Chamber of Deputies vote in favor of the proposed anti-racism law. Credit: Los Tiempos