A new bill would give Bolivian authorities permission to listen in on electronic communications in times of emergency. Critics call it a power play against President Evo Morales’ media opponents.
EYES INSIDE – LATIN AMERICA
Bolivia is abuzz over the proposal of a new telecommunications law that critics claim will give the government of President Evo Morales carte blanche to listen into the phone conversations of media professionals in times of national emergencies.
According to the bill's controversial Article 111, during times of emergency, Bolivia's telecommunications operators, including the media, "are obligated to cooperate and put at the public authorities' disposition all networks and services, including broadcast, transmission and reception of communications and technology."
Bernardo Gutierrez, an opposition lawmaker, warned that the government could use the controversial article to tap into the phone conversations of individuals.
The Morales government has denied that there is such a clause in the new proposal, dubbed the Law of Telecommunications, Information Technology and Communications. He blames the criticism on "a false version" of the measure, which was circulated among government officials and even posted on Facebook.
On July 28, the Bolivian Senate, where President Morales's Movement Toward Socialism Party (MAS) holds a majority, passed the controversial bill, which the opposition and media owners claim is nothing more than an instrument to control broadcasters. Morales still has not signed the bill into law, though he is expected to shortly.
Under the law, 33% of the radio frequency spectrum would be reserved for government-owned broadcasters. Community and indigenous groups would be permitted licenses for another equal share, while the final one-third of the spectrum would be reserved for private broadcasters.
Because the indigenous and other community groups that have supported Morales since he came to office in 2006 don't have much money to spend in setting up a station, opponents say the MAS government will help fund their ventures to become official government mouthpieces.
The Bolivian Association of Broadcasters (Asbora) said it fears that of the 680 legal stations, about 400, which will have to have their licenses renewed in 2017, may be taken off the air. Asbora president Raúl Novillo called the law "a blow to freedom of expression," La Razón reports.
But the biggest controversy centers on whether the Morales government wants to use Article 111 to spy on politicians and the media, especially those who are critical to his administration, as the opposition charges. Public Works Minister Walter Delgadillo explained that the clause only states that the nation's media outlets would be obligated to connect to an emergency broadcast network if there was a threat or disaster.
In March, Morales charged that some media outlets were trying to destabilize his government. The InterAmerican Press Society has called the new law "an abuse of power," as reported by the Sucre daily El Correo del Sur.
Photo - Alejandro Vasquez Nunez