FLIP documentary depicts the difficulties of practicing journalism in the regional areas of Colombia

For decades, Colombian journalism has been a direct victim of the violence generated by the country’s armed conflict that started more than 50 years ago. The signing of the new peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, endorsed by the country’s Congress on Nov. 30, could mean the end of one of the causes of violent censorship for journalists in Colombia.

Although there were no murders of journalists in Colombia in 2016 in retaliation for their work, 152 journalists have been killed in the country in the last 40 years, according to figures from the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish). The last was recorded on Sept. 10, 2015 when Flor Alba Núñez was shot in the head just as she was entering the station where she worked in the municipality of Pitalito, in the department of Huila.

Núñez’s death brought to life the feeling that prevailed in the editorial offices of the country: fear. A fear that leads to inevitable silence.

That is why, despite the benefits of this peace process, the media ecosystem, especially in the most remote regions of the country, “is hit very hard,” FLIP’s Executive Director Pedro Vaca explained to the Knight Center. This hinders the “vigorous and strong public scrutiny” that the implementation of the peace accords requires.

And so FLIP released the documentary “In the middle: the silence within Colombian journalism” on its YouTube channel on Dec. 30, 2016. Although the documentary was first presented in February 2016, to mark the Day of the Journalist in Colombia, it is now public after being presented at human rights documentaries festivals.

“It is material that we will continue to circulate as a tool to show how self-censorship is in Colombia and the causes of the silences of Colombian journalism,” said Vaca, who added that in order to make the documentary, they visited departments like Guaviare, Cochó, Putumayo, Huila and the region known as Montes de María, those traditionally hit hard by the armed conflict.

But self-censorship is not the only subject the documentary addresses. Vaca pointed out that the problems of press freedom in Colombia include violence, high levels of impunity, advertising and its affect on media autonomy, as well as the power of the public forces on the media.

For example, one of the cases recorded by the documentary is that of radio station Chiribequete Stereo, in Guaviare, which was closed after threats and pressure from the Army.

“The army was pushing us. Then one of the soldiers said very clearly: “No, because very simply my captain, we do what we did in Caquetá. If the man does not want to air our programs, then we take the station and we air the programs that we want,” said the station’s manager Ramón Ubaldo Bayer.

As an answer to the negative response by leaders of the station, the threats started, as well as the dissemination of information that called them accomplices of the FARC. “They started to make that myth, and they took over all the equipment. That cost us to leave there and the station is done,” Bayer said.

According to Vaca, the documentary, which is “a tool for spreading the problems that we record,” will be accompanied by activities with journalism schools and journalist associations. However, one of his main objectives is for the documentary to become “a decision-making tool for local authorities.”

FLIP has now made a shorter version of the documentary that is just over 30 minutes. The initial version, which runs at 50 minutes, has English subtitles.

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.

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