The decision of a judge in Barranquilla, Colombia to order a three-day detention for the director of newspaper El Heraldo, Marco Schwartz, and the imposition of a fine for alleged contempt of an order for rectification has generated controversy in the country.
According to an editorial published in El Heraldo on June 10, it all started with the publication of an article in June 2015 “which reflected, with neutrality and rigor, a statement from the Attorney General’s Office.” The article, the editorial continued, reported on “the opening of a preliminary inquiry to establish the alleged criminal responsibility of several judicial officers” in a legal process that forced the mayor of the city to incur extra payments to retirees of the district.
Two of the officials mentioned in the note, judges of the High Court of Barranquilla, demanded a correction from the newspaper, according to Colombian news agency Colprensa.
“Although we believe that there was no reason for a correction, because we had strictly adhered to the text of the statement, we offered them ample space in the newspaper to relay their point of view,” the editorial added.
According to El Heraldo, it published a second note in which the judges explained their role in the decision that led to the judicial process.
However, the judges were not satisfied and filed a tutela [a resource in the Colombian justice system to restore fundamental rights] in which they demanded a correction. According to the newspaper, the correction they asked for was “much broader” and included “aspects that were no mentioned in the [original] note.” This correction was published, according to the editorial.
However, one of the judges considered it insufficient and filed a motion for contempt. The complaint was ruled in favor of the judge and led to the arrest warrant and the imposition of a fine against Schwartz, according to W Radio.
“El Heraldo has always expressed a deep respect for the Colombian judicial body, but we understand that in this specific case we find a worrying situation that affects not only the individual rights of our director, but also the exercise of free information in the country,” the editorial said. “We do not resign ourselves to accept that trustworthy news, which is limited to collecting a statement from an state institution, ends in an order for arrest, whether for a director of a media or a copywriter.”
The decision is under review by the High Court of Barranquilla, according to the newspaper El Tiempo.
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.