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Bolivian government takes aim at national news agency with libel suit

(IAPA/IFEX) - Miami, August 22, 2012 - An announcement by the government of Bolivia that it is taking criminal proceedings out against the national news agency Agencia de Noticias Fides (ANF) for alleged libel of President Evo Morales today raised the concern of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).

Government Minister Carlos Romero announced on August 17 that he would be filing a “criminal charge” against the ANF for libeling Morales in an article titled “Evo says that if people go hungry in the east [part of the country] it is because of 'laziness',” which was linked to the agency's main report on a speech by the president on August 15. Romero said that the lawsuit seeks “to set a precedent.”

For her part, Communication Minister Amanda Dávila publicly accused the ANF of “having systematically distorted statements of the authorities” and she called the agency's article “malicious, tendentious and provocative.”

The accusation was rejected by the ANF, founded in 1963 by its current director, Jesuit priest José Gramunt de Moragas. The ANF said that before it published the article in question, at least two television channels broadcast extracts of the speech, which were in turn tweeted.

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Gustavo Mohme, said, “What the two government officials say against the news agency is misguided, worrisome and an act of intimidation.”

Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, mentioned precepts contained in the Declaration of Chapultepec which say that no news media outlet or journalist should be penalized for telling the truth.

Concerning another incident reported in Bolivia last weekend, the IAPA expressed concern and asked the authorities to investigate what had occurred and punish those responsible for the detention of reporter Jimmy Arias and cameraman Johnny Callapa, from the state-owned television channel Bolivia TV de Cochabamba, in the town of Santa Clara.

The two arrived in the area on August 18 to cover a consultation with local residents – belonging to the communities of the Indigenous Territory and the Isiboro Sécure National Park – on construction of an interstate highway.

With the aid of some local people the journalists managed to flee their captors, who, according to Arias, belonged to other communities opposed to the highway construction. They were rescued on Monday night (August 20).

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