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RSF calls for amendments to progressive but problematic decree on community radio stations

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is a 2 July 2007 RSF letter to the president of Bolivia:

Mr. Evo Morales Ayma
President of Bolivia

Dear Mr. President,

Reporters Without Borders, an international press freedom organisation, would like to raise the matter of decree 29174 with you. Issued by your office on 20 June, this decree establishes new rules for community radio stations and gives them six months to comply, failing which their broadcast licences could be withdrawn by the Superintendency for Telecommunications.

Decree 29174 is meant to serve a necessary and desirable purpose. Its goal is to facilitate the creation of media in rural areas whose inhabitants, for technical reasons, lack ready access to news and communication media (Internet, phone and broadcast coverage). Like so-called cultural and educational radio stations, community radio stations will not have to pay taxes on the acquisition and use of frequencies. From now on, only commercial stations will be taxed. This is a step in the right direction.

However, the criteria for assigning and renewing frequencies pose a problem. Decree 29174 says that a representative of the government, legislature or judiciary cannot own a community radio station. This provision also applies to politicians in general, trade union leaders and religious ministers. But they are all citizens, with a right to possess a news media like any citizen. What are the grounds for banning them?

This is the most problematic aspect of the decree. Assigning and renewing a frequency is conditioned on the community radio station's abstaining from "broadcasting partisan or proselytising messages of any kind" and limiting itself to educational, cultural or community messages. We think it is up to each media to define its own editorial policies. Curiously, this provision does not apply to some 30 newly-created community radio stations because they fall under the category of cultural and educational media. Such unequal treatment before the law is astonishing.

For this reason, Reporters Without Borders hopes that decree 29174 will be amended and made more flexible, in consultation with representatives of the press and civil society. By way of example, our organisation welcomed a bill regulating community media which Uruguayan legislators passed on 5 June. This bill establishes an Honorary Consultative Council consisting of government, civil society and academic representatives with authority to intervene in the process of assigning and renewing frequencies.

I thank you in advance for giving this letter your careful consideration.

Respectfully,

Robert Ménard
Secretary-General

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