In Bolivia, mayor’s supporters attack TV, radio stations

New York, November 17, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by reports that a Bolivian TV channel and its sister radio station were vandalized and forced off the air on Monday by supporters of a local mayor. 

TV station Channel 8 and a community radio station in Yapacaní, a town in the rural Santa Cruz region of eastern Bolivia, were forced to shut down on Monday after supporters of Yapacaní Mayor David Carvajal kicked down the doors to the offices and vandalized and stole computers, consoles, televisions, chairs, and desks, according to Aideé Rojas, reporter for the Santa Cruz daily El Deber. No one was at either station during the attack and there were no injuries, Rojas said.

Although Rojas said the stations provided mostly educational programming, Franz Chávez of the La Paz-based National Press Association told CPJ that the stations had recently broadcast interviews with local community members criticizing the mayor over the slow pace of development.

“It is outrageous that supporters of an elected official would resort to vandalism in response to criticism,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “CPJ calls on Bolivian authorities to investigate the attack and ensure the stations can report critically without fear of reprisal.”

On November 11, members of the local nongovernmental organization Federacion de Comunidades Interculturales, which owns both stations, occupied Yapacaní town hall in a protest against the mayor. In response, supporters of the mayor held a meeting on Monday and decided to take over the TV and radio stations.

Rojas, who was in Yapacaní during the attack, told CPJ there were only seven police officers in the town who, due to the size of the crowd, were either unwilling or unable to intervene. The stations remain off the air, Chávez said.

Violence against the press in Bolivia has lessened in recent years after a series of bloody attacks in 2008 during a period of intense political tension.