Colombian press group laments poor start to 2013

Colombia started off 2013 with a series of attacks on the press, including death threats against three journalists, censorship at the hands of criminal gangs and the interrupted distribution of a newspaper in the department of Sucre, reported the Press Freedom Foundation, FLIP, in a press release Thursday, Jan. 31.

The attacks started in the first half of January with threats against the journalist Jineth Bedoya, assistant legal editor for the newspaper El Tiempo in Bogotá, the capital, which she received through one of her sources, warning her to stop publishing accusations. The threat was the sixth she has received since 2011.

Days later, the newspaper Al Día in MonteríaCórdoba claimed that two of its reporters received death threats attributed to the criminal organization Los Urabeños. The messages addressed to Amilkar Alvera and Jairo Cassiani gave the reporters 48 hours to leave the city. Earlier, unknown callers demanded they not report on news related to the capture and trial of members of the gang. However, in a bizarre twist, gang members arrived at the newspaper's offices after they heard about the threats and said they were not responsible for the warnings, according to FLIP.

Other attacks on the press took place in Medellín, where warring drug gangs have muzzled media coverage of violence in the city's outskirts. In two separate instances reporters from different television channels were expelled from these neighborhoods and ordered not to return. Some regional media organizations have opted not to cover the area until their reporters' safety can be guaranteed, which the Medellín police has promised to address.

Toward the end of the month, the heads of circulation for the newspapers Al Día and El Heraldo in the department of Sucre received threatening phone calls and messages. On Tuesday, Jan. 29, copies of the newspaper El Meridiano de Sucre with accusations against a public health agency were bought en masse and supposedly burned to prevent their distribution in the city. The city's police commander pledged to patrol the newspapers' officers.

FLIP said on its website that these events were "clear intimidations, pressures and threats that obstruct the free practice of journalism in the country. This panorama is discouraging and shows little signs of improvement over what we experienced in 2012." The organization asked all government institutions to take the necessary measures to protect the free practice of journalism and to bring those responsible for the threats to justice. FLIP also announced its intentions to publish a report on the state of the press in 2012 on Feb. 9, Colombia's Day of the Journalist in the country.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.