The journalist, writer, teacher and professor of ethics of the Gabo Foundation, Javier Darío Restrepo, died on Oct. 6 in Bogotá, Colombia, at the age of 87.
Since 2000, “Maestro Restrepo,” as he was known, directed the Journalistic Ethics Program of the Gabo Foundation, and became a “pillar and guide in ethical journalism of Ibero-America,” as described by this foundation.
However, his journalistic work dates back to 1957 and covers different media such as radio, television and print. He received the call to be a journalist while in seminary where he was studying to be a priest, a path he also followed for 17 years, as told by Colombian writer Alberto Salcedo Ramos in a profile of Restrepo written in 2005.
After directing religious newspapers, he began collaborating with national newspapers and magazines. “At that point, by the way, Restrepo felt that swimming in the two waters had led him to an awkward limbo: the priests considered that he was not one of their own, but a reporter with a cassock. To the journalists he also seemed like an alien. He decided to end the ambiguity with one single pain, and decided on journalism,” Salcedo Ramos wrote.
In his work as a cronista, he covered not only the Colombian conflict, but those of other countries, such as Lebanon and Guatemala.
“When he arrived at the hotels after completing his days, he took paper and pencil to write letters to his daughter María José, in which he told her the details of the violence he was covering. What at first seemed like the casual exercise of a nostalgic father, became after a while the book Testigo de seis guerras (Witness of six wars),” Salcedo Ramos said. “The pilgrimage of Restrepo with the originals under the arm lasted two years. Planeta was one of the three publishing houses that rejected the manuscript, but curiously it was Planeta that finally published it, when the book won the Germán Arciniegas Journalism Prize, which the publishing house organizes.”
This award was not the only one. His journalistic career earned him multiple recognitions and awards both in Colombia and in the world.
One of the most recent was the Journalistic Excellence Award of the Gabo Prize in 2014. He also received the Simón Bolívar National Journalism Award of Colombia in 1985 and in 1986, both in the television category, as well as the Simón Bolívar To the life and work of a journalist in 1997. He also received the national prize of the Circle of Journalists of Bogotá in the press category in 1993; as well as the San Gabriel awards of the Colombian Episcopate in 1994, the aforementioned Germán Arciniegas from Editorial Planeta in 1995 for his book “Witness of Six Wars” and the Latin American Prize for journalistic ethics granted by the Latin American Center for Journalism (CELAP), sponsored by the Florida International University, in 1997, as reported by the Gabo Foundation.
He also stood out for his defense of press freedom. In fact, he was director of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) in Colombia, and was a columnist for the newspapers El Espectador, El Colombiano and El Heraldo.
His death, whose causes are still unknown, was surprising. Just two days before, on Oct. 4, Restrepo participated in the Gabo Journalism Festival in Medellín where he presented his book “La constelación ética” (The ethical constellation). In his book, he reflects on the good work in journalism, the Gabo Foundation reported.
Many of the 22 books of which he is the author are dedicated to the study and analysis of journalistic ethics, but others such as ‘‘Cartas de Guerra” (War Letters) or “La revolución de las sotanas” (The Cassock Revolution) also stand out.
Shortly after his death was made known, different media outlets and institutions, as well as journalists expressed their condolences and affection regarding the man who many generations of journalists considered a master of journalism.
The Gabo Foundation, of which he was part for 24 years as a workshop teacher, member of the governing board, director of the ethical program and “advisor and guide,” was among the first to speak. “He leaves us orphans of his kind heartedness and wisdom. Rest in peace,” part of its message reads.
“I am overwhelmed by the death of our beloved maestro Javier Darío Restrepo, an irreplaceable pillar of the @Fundación Gabo, one of the world's leading experts in journalistic ethics, winner of the #PremioGabo for journalistic excellence in 2014,” wrote Jaime Abello Banfi, general director of the Gabo Foundation.
“The FLIP sends its condolences to the family of Javier Darío Restrepo. Not only was he a maestro of journalism, but he was essential in the defense of press freedom from this organization as founder, executive director and member of the board of directors,” the organization wrote on its Twitter account.
His friend María Teresa Herrán, with whom he wrote the book “Ética para periodistas” (Ethics for journalists), announced his death on Twitter on Sunday afternoon. “Immense sadness. The unconditional friend, the guide, the lighthouse, the humanist, the sculptor of words, the philosopher, the simple grandfather, the thinker, the integral human being has died: Javier Darío Restrepo,” Herrán wrote.
Daniel Coronell, Colombian journalist and columnist, and president of Noticias Univisión, also joined in the recognition of Restrepo's work. “Everyone remembers Javier Darío Restrepo today as the wise and calm maestro. On the other hand, I evoke him as a fierce and implacable reporter,” wrote Coronell, who shared a journalistic anecdote about Restrepo when he managed to ask Fidel Castro three “hard and news-worthy questions.”
Mexican journalist Marcela Turati, who received the prize for Journalistic Excellence in 2014 with Restrepo, wrote on her Twitter account: “Don Javier Darío died, the maestro who told us about 'journalism of the possible,’ about ethics and the voice of conscience, of the sense of the trade, of also looking for the news that gives hope, of that journalism that becomes more important than bread. Thanks, maestro.”
“Every time I get desperate and I doubt if journalism achieves transformations, I remember what Don Javier Dario said: The words we write are like birds that take flight; Some will put a nest. We have to have faith that this happens even if we don't manage to see it, ”added Turati.
“With great sadness, I received the news of the death of the great friend Javier Darío Restrepo, the Colombian who for decades was the great maestro of ethics in Latin American journalism. We will feel a lot with your absence. Rest in peace, dear friend,” wrote Rosental Calmon Alves, director and founder of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Restrepo also collaborated with the Knight Center in its distance learning program. Together with the Forum for Argentine Journalism (Fopea), he taught the course ‘Journalistic Ethics’ to professionals from that country in 2007.