April 23, 2008

The Media War

MABB © ®

The current power struggle taking part in Bolivia is playing, literally, before the eyes and ears of the people. The day I arrived in La Paz, I turned on the TV and discovered that the cable service has nothing to envy to those in the US or Europe. In my hotel room I have the choice of over a hundred channels, in French, German, English, Portuguese and Spanish. Flipping through, I discovered that Bolivia has come a long way from the around eleven channels I knew when I lived here. What I quickly realized, however, is the media war taking place right before my eyes.

The most important sources of information for people are, I think, television, radio and newspapers. This is in order of importance. Now someone might pull some statistics and try to argue with me, but that is ok. This is just my opinion. The first flips through the gamma of Bolivian channels made me realize an important part of this struggle was taking part there. Almost every channel, and I say almost, because I am still not sure I visited every channel originating in Bolivia, has propaganda showing how the other side is wrong and the own side is right. This is pretty much, as one might expect it, divided regionally. The channels originating in Santa Cruz, are showing spots on how the autonomic statute is best for Bolivia. They almost always say that because of the statutes Bolivia will develop and will unite. Whereas, in the channels being broad casted from La Paz and El Alto, the spots show how the same statutes are bad for Bolivia because they only benefit the rich and will divide Bolivia.

The government and the opposition must be spending large amounts of money to produce these propaganda. It seems to me that in La Paz, we see more of the government's side. I don't know yet how is it in Santa Cruz. My guess is that the opposition side is more prevalent there. Although, theoretically one can watch any channel one wants. I am just not sure. However, what I am observing is that the government has put a lot of effort and money in organizing a large media campaign to drive "inform the public". There are spots showing the good sides of the government's constitution. For example, there is a woman who, in very colloquial paceno accent, is worried about some of the rumors she hears against the constitution. She repeats these to another woman or man, who in a more calmed and informed-sounding voice, corrects the woman and tries to calm her. Finally, the woman takes the printed version of the government's constitution, reads it and convinces herself that her fears are unfounded.

Another form of propaganda are the so called opinionated news casts. These are newscasts directed by an anchorman or woman who instead of giving just the facts, he or she introduces the news report with a commentary. This form of newscast is common in Germany, but the form it takes in Bolivia is extreme. Some anchors in some channels hold five minute monologues advancing the government's position and criticizing the opposition's actions. Some anchors go even further and engage in personal attacks against people from the opposition.

A third form of propaganda takes place in the radios. There are lots of programs which receive calls from people. The thing is that the critique I hear is mostly directed to the opposition. Ok, yes, the chances are great for this kind of criticism to be heard because La Paz is the stronghold of the government's supporters. But, it is still strange not to hear one voice supporting the opposition.

The same can be said for the channels supporting the opposition. The spots show how good autonomy will be for Bolivia. Other spots show how bad some government policies are. For example, the recent problem over the export of cooking oil. The opposition's channels say that the government wants to control prices or show how the prohibition of exports results in unemployment.

The newspapers are more or less the same. There are those which support the government and those which support the opposition. I think this media war is not entirely without consequences. It tends to misinform the public opinion rather than inform it. And the readiness of some media outlets to lend themselves to this kind of practice is astounding to me.