Bolivian Press Seeks 1 Million Signatures for Referendum
Opinión, Cochabamba, 12 October, 2010: Bolivian journalists announced today that they will begin a campaign to collect one million signatures in support of their efforts to request a referendum regarding the two articles of the new anti-racism law they believe violate freedom of expression.
The executive secretary of the Confederation of Press Workers of Bolivia, Pablo Zenteno, reported to the media that the initiative seeks to 'decisively' surpass the number of signatures needed to present a 'popular legislative initiative' proposal to demand a referendum on the two polemic articles.
Article 16 establishes economic sanctions and even the closure of media that publish what the Government may considere to be 'racist and discriminatory ideas' while article 23 states that journalists and media owners accused of racism may not seek immunity of any kind if prosecuted.
President Evo Morales passed the law last Friday amidst protests by associations of newspapers and audiovisual media, unions, and journalism schools who rejected these articles as they believe they impede freedom of the press and limit democracy.
Zenteno told Panamericana Radio that the signatures already collected in various cities throughout the country in ledgers exhibited by journalists show the population's support, but explained that collecting signatures would have to begin anew in compliance with certain legal requirements.
The objective is to have at least 1 million signatures, equivalent to 10% of the country's population.
At least 17 people, mainly journalists, are on hunger strike in the city of Santa Cruz in rejection of these articles.
On Sunday, the executive director of Bolivian newspaper El Deber, Pedro Rivero Jordán, joined this initiative, and declared that with the articles in question the Government intends to "begin open persecution against the independent media and journalists to 'muzzle' them."
The Vice Minister of Governmental Coordination, Wilfredo Chávez, stated in a press conference that as far as the government is concerned the 'hunger strike makes no sense and lacks foundation', as the law against discrimination complies with the Constitution. 'To defend a legislative initiative that violates or extirpates articles 16 and 23 is to go against the Constitution. That can't be done. The people have already voted to incorporate these measures' into legislation, he said.
Morales has affirmed over the past few days that freedom is guaranteed, but also declared that it is his obligation to 'eradicate racists who are owners of the media' and indicated he is in favor of handing the frequencies of closed audiovisual media over to their employees.
Protests in Cochabamba
Journalists from television channels, the press, and radio stations returned to the streets of Cochabamba to demand freedom of expression and eliminate the two polemic articles (16 and 23) from the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination.
The unusual march today grouped journalists from the mainstream media of Cochabamba at Plaza 14 de Septiembre, where they held a symbolic funeral for Freedom of Expression, by carrying a coffin with cameras, recorders and video cameras on their shoulders.