"Peace in the headlines, fear in the newsroom:” FLIP report about increased attacks on press freedom in Colombia

The Colombian media may have never talked so much about peace as they did in 2015, when the government and the FARC guerrilla advanced in negotitions to end the armed conflict of more than 50 years. However, this has not translated into decreased attakcs on the press in the country.

The report "Peace in the headlines, fear in the newsroom" from the Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP for its acronym in Spanish), was presented on Feb. 8 at an event on the eve of Journalist’s Day. It shows that 2015 was the most violent year out of the last six.

With 147 attacks that affected 232 journalists, violence against the press increased 39 percent compared with 2014, according to the report.

The most severe cases were the two homicides caused by journalists’ work. Luis Peralta, from the town of El Doncello in Caquetá, was the director of the only station in the north of this department and was a critical voice who denounced local corruption. He was killed on Feb. 14 after warning authorities that he was in danger.

Flor Alba Núñez was killed on Sept. 10 in the town of Pitalito, department of Huila. After her murder, the project 'Pitalito Uncensored' was created. According to FLIP’s report, research conducted for this initiative “unraveled a pact of impunity and complicity in the Huila municipality, which has prevented investigations and arrests from advancing.”

The number of journalists who were victims of other kinds of attacks has also increased and is at its highest since 2009, according to FLIP. Threats, with 59 cases and 77 victims, are the most frequent kind of attack. They are followed by obstruction of journalistic work, with 36 cases and 81 victims; and stigmatization, with 17 cases and 25 victims.

For FLIP, the increase of these types of attacks could be related to the electoral process in the country in 2015.

“The aggressive and hostile environment that various regions of the country live in has negatively and directly affected the way in which journalists covered elections,” the report says.

Concerning the perpetrators of the attacks, the report notes that the police are the main actors behind censorship of the press. However, there are also a large number of attacks whose perpetrators are "unknown or private citizens.”

Impunity in crimes against journalists remain among Colombia’s most serious problems. During 2015, time expired for the State to investigate and punish those responsible in four cases of murdered journalists.

During a Feb. 8 presentation, Pedro Vaca, executive director of the FLIP, recalled the murder of Jaime Garzón which has not seen major advances despite that the former deputy director of the extinct Administrative Department of Security (DAS for its acronym in Spanish) has been on trial for six years.

He also mentioned Claudia Julieta Duque whose case has opened three trials against former officials of the DAS who have been accused of psychological torture; and Jineth Bedoya Lima, whose case, despite the recent confession of one of its perpetrators, has seen undue delays in the 15-year search for justice.

Vaca positively highlighted the landmark case of Orlando Sierra in which the entire criminal network - from the perpetrator to the intellectual author - has been condemned. However, he did not forget the obstacles faced in the process of obtaining justice, which took 13 years.

He also described as positive the fact that the murder of Nelson Carvajal arrived at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights after 17 years of not progressing, and the decision of the State Council which condemned the Colombian State for the murder of Efraín Varela after finding that there was complicity between members of the army and the paramilitary group AUC.

Journalism and peace

At the event for journalists’day, there was time to talk about journalism in a post-conflict scenario. For example, the report 'The Word and the Silence' from the National Center for Historical Memory was presented, as well. This is the only report submitted by the State on violence against journalists and media in the midst of armed conflict, according to FLIP.

According to this report, 152 journalists have been killed since 1977. Of these, 112 were journalists of regional and/or community media, those which have been most affected by the conflict.

Additionally, FLIP took the opportunity to present its documentary “In the Middle: silence of Colombian journalism.” The work, which was taped in different regions, “reflects how journalism is practiced in conflict zones,” FLIP said.

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.