During municipal elections in Colombia, journalists were prohibited from interviewing voters and entering polling stations: FLIP

The Colombian press had to overcome several obstacles to cover the municipal and regional elections of Oct. 27 in Colombia, according to the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP, for its initials in Spanish) of Colombia.

FLIP recorded nine cases of restriction to the press by the National Police. In some, law enforcement did not allow journalists to enter polling stations with their work teams or demanded press credentials from them.

Police officers withheld citizenship cards from journalist Orlando Carvajal and Juan Pablo Cohen for several hours and prevented them from recording at a voting center in the northern city of Cúcuta, the FLIP said in its statement. Cohen was also threatened with paying a fine for an alleged lack of respect for authority, the organization said.

National police demanded a press credential from journalist Cristian Cuellar of station Unicauca Estéreo even thought he could be identified by logos of his media outlet, according to the FLIP. In Bucaramanga, Ana León, a journalist from La Silla Vacía, was asked by the police to delete her video recordings and threatened to detain her, the organization said. In San José del Guaviare, officials from the Registry banned journalists from Caracol Radio from conducting interviews with voters and poll workers, FLIP said.

According to journalist Jonathan Bock, coordinator of the Center for Freedom of Expression Studies of FLIP, there was a lot of confusion due to the publication of two decrees by the Ministry of Interior days before the elections. According to the decrees, both were intended to establish a series of rules that contribute to the normal development of elections and balance of information, among others.

On Oct. 23, the Ministry of Interior published Decree 1924 with Article 13 that stipulates that on election day, the press should be accredited in order to cover the election day using cell phones and video and photo cameras in voting centers. Two days later, the Ministry published another decree, 1967, to correct Article 13, allowing the media to cover the elections with their work teams and cell phones but with proper press accreditation.

In this regard, FLIP published in a statement that "the requirement of some identification cannot become an excuse to prevent access of any type of media outlet to the polling stations."

Bock told the Knight Center that in Colombia, it is not mandatory for a journalist to present a press credential to carry out their work, since the Constitution only requires them to present their citizenship card as identification. Therefore, the second decree did not significantly correct what was stipulated by the first, he said.

“They are a series of measures that go beyond out of ignorance, maybe because they simply copy and paste previous rules, because the truth is that we would not find any other meaning,” Bock said. For example, he added, “the instructions of the [National Civil Status] Registry were clear that journalists could enter [the voting centers] with their cameras. So we really don't understand it very well ”

Another of the restrictions on the press during the elections as a result of decree 1924 was the prohibition on the media from issuing information not confirmed by official sources and from conducting polls, surveys or electoral projections.