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CAPSULE REPORT: On eve of constitutional referendum, RSF urges politicians and media to act responsibly

(RSF/IFEX) - The following is an abridged version of a 19 January 2009 RSF report:

ON EVE OF CONSTITUTIONAL REFERENDUM, POLITICIANS AND MEDIA URGED TO ACT RESPONSIBLY

As Bolivia prepares for a 25 January referendum on a new constitution that President Evo Morales has sought from the time he took office in January 2006, Reporters Without Borders appeals to politicians and news media to act with responsibility. Ever since the constituent assembly began its work in August 2006, the call for a new constitution has fuelled political violence and polarisation, in which both state and privately-owned media and their staff have been protagonists and victims.

The welcome intercession of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) in September and the consensus reached a month later between the government and the main opposition party (Podemos) have partially checked a political crisis that has undermined press freedom and the safety of journalists.

But the adoption of a new constitution will not suffice to resolve the past antagonisms or prevent future abuses. Reporters Without Borders is therefore addressing this message to Bolivia's citizens, leaders and news media.

Against hate media

An organisation that defends press freedom and free expression, Reporters Without Borders believes it has a duty to denounce the use of news media to incite racism, violence or murder. It was for this reason that the organisation condemned the behaviour of Jorge Melgar Quete, who was arrested on 13 October in Riberalta, in the northeastern department of Beni.

Melgar's commentaries on Beni's Canal 18 TV station were just hate-filled rants against the indigenous origins of many Bolivians and the country's democratically-elected president. In an opinion piece published in the dailies La Razón and La Prensa on 21 October, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard voiced outrage at the fact that the media were being used to express such views.

For the same reason, as a warning, we are publishing on our website passages from "Nuestra Palabra", a hate programme hosted by lawyer Luis Arturo Mendivil on Radio Oriental, a station he owns in the eastern city of Santa Cruz. Mendivil's radio editorials glorify the Unión Juvenil Cruceñista, a radical Santa Cruz-based group that has carried out repeated physical attacks on state media such as Canal 7 TV and the Red Patria Nueva radio network because of their perceived support for the central government in La Paz.

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To read the full report, see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=30024

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