[JURIST] Bolivian President Evo Morales [official profile, in Spanish; BBC profile] signed a controversial bill [text, PDF; in Spanish] into law Friday that permits the government to punish media outlets for publishing racist content. Under the new law, the government can fine or even revoke [Reuters report] the media licenses of newspapers and other media that publish content it deems to be discriminatory, particularly toward the nation’s majority Indian population. The law was widely protested [JURIST report] by Bolivian media outlets earlier this week, which responded [Los Tiempos report, in Spanish] to Morales’ endorsement of the speech constraints by printing the message “There is no democracy without freedom of expression” on their front pages. The country’s largest journalists union has refused to participate [Los Tiempos report, in Spanish] in the drafting of the regulations for the new law.
The legislation comes as part of a wider campaign by Morales to advance the interests of the majority indigenous community, which has been a theme of his presidency [JURIST report]. In June, the Bolivian National Congress approved [JURIST report] legislation [text, PDF; in Spanish] that will create an independent justice system for indigenous communities. The Law of Judicial Authority is attempting to create a system of “communal justice” that would expedite the settlement of disputes and end the colonization of justice, according to supporters. Opponents in congress criticized the bill as a way in which to get more people from the indigenous population on the courts, regardless of merit. In March 2009, Morales began redistributing land to indigenous farmers under power given to him by the country’s new constitution [text, in Spanish]. Bolivia’s new constitution went into effect [JURIST report] in February 2009, after being approved [JURIST report] by national referendum the previous month with a 59 percent majority. It is intended to place more power in the hands of the country’s indigenous, remove traditional colonial elites from power and challenge US influence. It also creates seats in Congress for minority indigenous groups.