Sunday, April 01, 2007

A trusted voice of news in Bolivia

Father Jose Gramunt, to the right, is a Jesuit priest and highly respected newspaper columnist here in Bolivia. He appears in the major dailies and is a model of fearless political and social commentary. Because of his longevity and his independence of any political party over many decades, he has a unique standing. His opinions carry a lot of weight. He doesn't pull any punches, and he is as likely to question the tactics of the left as the right.

He is also the founder and director of a national news service called Fides that is known for its independence and credibility, which really counts in a country where no one trusts any authority. Most of the papers in the country subscribe to it. It offers general news as well as sports, business, politics, crime, etc. Fides also has a radio news network of some 30 stations around the country.

A recent report from the Interamerican Press Association mentioned that Gramunt's news agency has received threats from President Morales's party, which accuses the journalists of "promoting sedition with the goal of overthrowing the government of Evo Morales."

Father Gramunt asked me to do a critique of a week´s production of the wire service for his 10 journalists. His goal: How could they make their news report more enterprising, with more initiative, and be less reactive? Over two mornings, and two batches of salteñas (tasty filled pastries), we went into that, and the journalists participated with lots of energy and enthusiasm.

Journalists want to work for Father Gramunt. He has trained many of the best in the country. Born in Tarragona in Spain, he came to Bolivia in 1952 as a student and eventually persuaded his Jesuit bosses that he should be a journalist. The news service grew out of a Jesuit radio network whose original focus was on religious programming. Gramunt wanted to do more journalistic programming but the church couldn´t finance it. The only way he could make it work financially was to start a subscriber news service, which is what he did in 1963. It´s managed to pay its own way for more than 40 years. Gramunt, 84, has a real sense of mission. He knows how important a credible news source is in an emerging democracy.

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