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Bolivia: anti-racism law stirs debate

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Anti-racism law stirs debate

by Bolivian Information Forum*

A national law against racism and discrimination is being debated in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly. The law, which would prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, social or economic status, religion, ideology or disability, has been met with protests by national press associations and opposition legislators who argue that it would place excessive restrictions on freedom of expression.

It is Articles 16 and 23 of the law that deal with the media and which have been the subject of controversy. Article 16 states that any media outlet that authorises and publishes racist and discriminatory ideas will be subject to economic sanctions and could have its broadcasting license suspended. Article 23 refers to journalists or media owners, who, it states, will not be subject to exemptions or immunity in cases of racism or discrimination.

However, Vice-president Alvaro García Linera stated that the effect of the law on the media is “tiny and secondary” and that the law “isn’t for attacking the media, rather it is for the protection of the weak, mistreated and discriminated against, who are the vast majority in Bolivia.” He also called on media owners to pay more attention to the ethics and performance of their outlets and not to use them to reinforce racist attitudes.

As the law passes through the assembly, journalists’ unions across the country have organised localised protests and strike actions. In some regions, unions decided not to strike, instead presenting suggested modifications to the two articles relating to the media. Associations representing community radio stations, including the Erbol network and the World Association of Community Radios. expressed their support for the law but also presented suggestions to modify the articles in question.

The draft legislation stipulates the forming of a National Committee Against Racism and Discrimination that would oversee the implementation of the law and draft a national action plan. The committee would be made up of representatives from public institutions, indigenous organisations, Afro-Bolivian communities, women’s rights groups and other human rights institutions and organisations. This committee would receive and follow cases of racism or discrimination as they are processed by the justice system.

As we went to press, the presidential spokesman, Iván Canelas, announced that, following a meeting President Morales held with representatives of the press on Tuesday evening, that he was willing to make modifications to Article 23 of the law.

* This article and more information on Bolivia is available at the Bolivian Information Forum’s website