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Cablegate: Bolivia: Morales Manipulates Media Owners

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C O N F I D E N T I A L LA PAZ 002623

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/04/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL ODIP OIIP KPAO EAID BL
SUBJECT: BOLIVIA: MORALES MANIPULATES MEDIA OWNERS

REF: LA PAZ 2569

Classified By: PAS Couselor Denise Urs for reasons 1.4 b,d

1. (C) Summary: Bolivian President Evo Morales continues on
the offensive against the media, part of a long-running
campaign against the Bolivian media. Through verbal and
financial assaults, the Bolivian Government is attempting to
manipulate the way news is reported in this country. The GOB
uses financial tactics, such as hitting media with tax bills
or spending large sums of money on advertising, to influence
editorial lines and to create a fog about truthfulness. It
is also using its own media to expand and reinforce a cult
following around Morales. End summary.

GOB on the Attack

2. (SBU) The latest round of political attacks against the
media (reftel) is part of an ongoing battle. President Evo
Morales regularly calls the media his "principal opposition,"
and his "enemies." Notwithstanding his latest barbs,
however, Morales usually adds that he is not against
journalists, but against media owners. Rumors have been
floating for months that in order to attempt to protect the
President from his "enemies," Venezuelan investors are trying
to purchase various outlets including La Paz's second-largest
daily La Prensa, but so far there is no evidence that any
sales have been concluded.

3. (C) Instead, the GOB is intimidating media outlets
through legal proceedings and showing favoritism in the
distribution of its significant ad budget to push the press
toward a more favorable view of its policies. In one
example, the GOB sent La Razon, the largest newspaper in La
Paz, a tax bill for nearly $5 million for having "avoided
taxes during 2006." High-level officials at La Razon
speculated to Public Affairs Section officers that this tax
bill may have been an attempt to intimidate the paper to move
from its generally anti-GOB editorial stance. The tax
liability would also lower the value of the paper so that it
could be sold at a lower price.

4. (C) Nationalization of certain companies has also helped
the GOB push its press agenda forward. On May 1, President
Morales nationalized communications giant Entel, one of the
largest advertisers in Bolivia. The GOB has been accused of
using the enormous advertising budgets of the companies it
has nationalized, including Entel, to reward media that
publish pro-GOB articles and to punish those that do not.

5. (C) With only one exception, anti-GOB television network
Unitel, all of the major media in Bolivia accept direct paid
advertising from the Government, including spots that label
the media as "liars" and suggest that Bolivians should not
trust what they read, see, or hear from the press.
Ironically, these same media often editorialize against the
GOB during the same broadcasts or in the same newspapers that
carry anti-media ads. PAS officers have asked media
directors why they continue to carry the GOB ads, and all
have stated that without the income it would be more
difficult to survive in the very competitive market.

Who owns the Media?

6. (SBU) Although the majority of media in Bolivia are
privately owned, it is difficult to determine who the owners
are. There are no public records that prove ownership, and
companies or individuals who own majority stakes can sell
without a public paper trail. There are regular rumors about
the possible sale of outlets, but proof of such sales is nil
and the rumors usually fade quickly.

7. (C) Another issue of concern is the influence of
Venezuelan money in the media. PAS regularly hears that
Venezuelan businessmen are negotiating the purchase of one of
the television networks (usually cash-strapped ATB) as well
as numerous newspapers that are in financial trouble. Others
claim it is mere speculation. Nevertheless, Venezuelan money
has built a technically stronger, pro-government, populist
media network in the main Bolivian cities, called Radio y
Television Popular.

8. (C) La Paz,s second largest daily La Prensa reported
that Morales has reformed state-owned media outlets in an
effort to expand the popularity and cult following of the
President. The GOB created a network of community radio
stations, an internet wire agency (ABI), and expanded the
reach of the Government-owned TV Channel 7 using a $9 million
donation from Venezuela to install 120 repeaters. There are
also reports that the budget for Channel 7 operations has
expanded by $3.8 million and that the normal procurement
protocols have been dropped. The political opposition claims
that the President is advised by a team of communications
experts from Venezuela as well as other countries.

9. (C) Under the Morales administration, Channel 7, Empresa
Nacional de Television, has become one of the government's
primary media tools, often presenting biased and misleading
information, openly propagandizing for the President and his
policies, and discrediting the opposition. Channel 7 is
intent on expanding its reach and influence throughout the
country. The manager of Channel 7 announced that it is
upgrading to digital technology, a costly investment by
Bolivian standards. A year ago, Channel 7 announced the
receipt of a donation of equipment from unknown sources to
improve its reach in the departments of La Paz and Santa
Cruz, and that it had purchased 50 new repeaters to be
distributed to remote locations in the west and the Amazon
region. After the Iranian President's visit to Bolivia early
in 2007, some publications reported that Channel 7 would get
a large donation (some reported the intended donation would
be a multi-million dollar investment) to strengthen the state
TV network, but there has been no indication that this is
going to materialize. Iranian media are now reporting that
the donation will be in the form of Spanish-language
programming. Channel 7 also airs Venezuelan Government-owned
Telesur programming as part of its regular daily schedule.

Who Owns the Print Media?

10. (SBU) Two major media conglomerates appear to own most
of the media in Bolivia. Spanish group Prisa (owners of the
Spanish daily El Diario) owns La Razon; ATB, a private TV
network; and &Extra8 a cheap sensationalist daily. The
other media conglomerate, the Canelas and Rivero families,
owns most of the national major dailies throughout the
country. In La Paz, they own La Prensa; in Santa Cruz,
leading daily El Deber; in Cochabamba leading daily Los
Tiempos; they also own the only daily in El Alto, El Alteo;
in Sucre, Correo del Sur; in Potosi, El Potosi; and in
Tarija, El Nuevo Sur. The Canelas-Rivero Group papers are
generally critical of the Government. Other smaller,
independently owned newspapers fight for ever-shrinking
private-sector advertising revenues and often accept GOB
advertising to continue printing.

Comment

11. (C) Bolivia's media environment is increasingly
difficult. The GOB, aided by large Venezuelan investments,
has used financial pressures in an attempt to change the
editorial line of the media, and to hasten or provoke the
sale of media outlets. The regular rumors about the
impending sales of media may be a smoke screen to cover an
actual sale, they may be a rouse to frighten the media, or
they may simply be the imagination of media owners. It is
always possible, however, that media will be sold without
public knowledge, changing the opinion-leader landscape in
the country. End comment.
LAMBERT

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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