In February, police attacked several journalists in the central Bolivian city of Cochabamba during demonstrations by coca growers, who have been protesting for nearly two years a U.S.-backed eradication program that has destroyed most of Bolivia's crop. No one was seriously injured. But in a country where more that 60 percent of the population is indigenous, growing inequality and endemic corruption have caused increasing social instability. As a result, coca farmers in Chapare, the country's main coca-producing region, have verbally threatened and harassed some reporters because the farmers feel that journalists do not represent coca producers' interests in the mainstream press.
Meanwhile, roughly three-fifths of the Bolivian population is illiterate, according to the World Bank. That and high poverty are the prime reasons for print media's low circulation. But local journalists also worry that some businessmen and politicians exploit media outlets for their own interests, and that media ownership concentration is becoming a significant problem in Bolivia. For instance, Raúl Garafulic Gutiérrez, president of the multimedia group Illimani Comunicaciones, owns four newspapers--La Razón, Extra, Opinión, and El Nuevo Día--the ATB television network, and the Internet portal Bolivia.com. Garafulic is also the main shareholder in two telecommunications companies and is the president of a pension fund (AFP Previsión). Independent reporters have criticized Garafulic for buying 50 percent of the state-owned aviation company, Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano, in a secret sale, claiming that he used his media power to influence the purchase by giving it favorable coverage in La Razón.
By law, journalists in Bolivia must have a university degree and be registered with the National Registry of Journalists. But enforcement is far from strict, and numerous journalists work in the press without a degree. In Bolivia's largely privately owned media, most owners have personal ties to the business community, so journalists sometimes find it difficult to cover corporate malfeasance.
Government agencies are not required to release information to the public, and reporters often have trouble accessing certain information, such as budgets and public officials' travel expenses. During 2002, CPJ documented no prosecutions against journalists based on their reporting, but the Bolivian Penal Code provides strict sanctions for criminal defamation, including up to two years in prison.