Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Colombian Journalism - A Lot Less Deadly

A newsstand in central Bogota 
Conditions are improving for journalists in Colombia - in contrast to much of the rest of the region.

In its annual report isued today, The Federation for Press Freedom, or FLIP, reported 123 'agressions' against Colombian journalists during 2013 and two killings, of a radio reporter and an informal journalist. Many of the attacks took place against reporters covering last year's massive anti-government protests.

Still, as disturbing as those events are, Colombian journalists had it much worse in years past, when often more than 10 journalists were murdered annually. Many of those past killings, the FLIP points out, remain unsolved.
José Dario Arenas

The FLIP made a specific report about the violence-wrought Bajo Cauca region, where radio stations have abandonded news reporting in favor of sports and music to avoid angering the wrong people.

One of the journalists killed was a young man in the town of Caicedonia, near Armenia, who had Extra Quindio to support his wife and children. Soon, he started phoning in information about the local prison and police incidents to the newspaper. Apparently, he reported on the wrong person. One day, two men bought a newspaper from him, opened it, looked at an article about Caicedonia's prison and then shot Arenas dead.
practiced the trade informally, and for only six months. Jobless, José Dario Arenas, 32, had started selling the

Both Arenas's mother and a journalist who investigated Arenas's murder received death threats. The journalist later quit his job at the newspaper, which is no longer sold in Caicedonia. The killers won.

On the positive side according to the FLIP was the passage this year of legislation broadening access to government documents - altho it still requires the president's signature to go into effect.

But across Latin America, many media are under siege from their own governments - in many cases,
El Tiempo reports the demise of Venezuelan newspapers.
ironically, leftist governments whose leaders suffered decades ago under repressive right-wing dictators.

In Ecuador, Argentina and Venezuela, governments have used new laws, slander charges and economic weapons to intimidate and disable critical journalists. In Venezuela, probably the most critical case, broadcast media have lost their licenses and newspapers find themselves unable to import newsprint. Venezuela's leftist leaders have repeatedly accused the media of causing the nation's soaring crime.

In much of the region, it seems, the violence once used to repress the press has been replaced by intimidation, economic and legal tactics.

During this week's protests in Venezuela, the Venezuelan government banned Colombian TV station NTN24 from cable networks and the government-owned phone company even blocked Twitter photos.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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