US embassy cable - 08LAPAZ2623 (original version)

BOLIVIA: MORALES MANIPULATES MEDIA OWNERS (original version)

Identifier: 08LAPAZ2623
Wikileaks: View 08LAPAZ2623 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy La Paz
Created: 2008-12-22 15:02:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL ODIP OIIP KPAO EAID BL
Redacted: This cable was redacted by Wikileaks. [Show redacted version] [Compare redacted and unredacted version]
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PP RUEHWEB

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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 

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