The League Against Silence wants to overcome self-censorship in Colombia

“We are going to make a confession: in Colombia, journalists publish much less than what they know.” Thus begins the promotion video of the newly-formed network of journalists called The League Against Silence, which, through its first activity, is seeking resources to cover the most self-censored issues in the country.

The confession from the journalists does not seek controversy. What the league wants is to generate debate and solutions for one of the most serious problems facing Colombian journalists, especially those in the interior of the country: self-censorship.

A censorship imposed by large groups of power, economics or arms that have told their truth using fear and money. In the last 40 years, for example, 153 journalists have been killed because of their work, the video says.

“Self-censorship as a concept is known to exist, we have done a lot of research on it, but little progress has been made in overcoming it,” said Pedro Vaca, executive director of the Foundation for Press Freedom, in conversation with the Knight Center. “The League Against Silence is nothing more than the meeting of different media, which in some way are new, which in addition to having an agenda are media worried about the situation of censorship and self-censorship in Colombia.”

FLIP, the entity that promoted the League, thought of this initiative within the framework of its 20 years of existence with the proposition that this network of journalists would compensate, among other objectives, for the “deficit of attention by media to the situation of censorship,” which, according to Vaca, exists in Colombia.

The media and journalists who are part of the League have reached the limit of their patience and are willing to fight against it.

That is why the League is organizing a party on Dec. 14 that is no more than an “excuse to find people that are concerned” about the theme of self-censorship in the country and to “talk about issues in which Colombians are not well-informed or are the most censored,” Vaca said.

The party, which is also a way of joining media with their audiences, has the main objective of raising funds to allow the media to travel to some regions to cover the most self-censored issues.

“The idea is that we are the media that are involved, those that are going to do these issues and we talk about those things that the journalists in certain places do not speak about in a justified manner. Not because they are mediocre journalists or something like that, but because in reality, self-censorship is exercised when there are compelling reasons like threats or serious risks of being the object of aggressions or homicide, even,” said Daniel Salgar, member of the creative team for the video opinion column La Pulla of newspaper El Espectador, to the Knight Center.

La Pulla has become a very successful program, especially among younger audiences, Salgar said. This year, it received the National Journalism Prize Simón Bolívar, according to Salgar. Since February of this year, its journalists have been using humor and “talking with clarity” about issues on the national agenda.

That is why Salgar hopes the party will reach many of the fans they have on social media, whose support will help to solve one of the common problems of independent media: financing.

In addition to entrance to the party, which has a cost, there will be different activities inside, including raffles, auctions from recognized cartoonists and photographers, sale of drinks, among others.

However, taking into account that their audience may be very young and likely students, they have set economic prices.

“We are going to do activities designed for the public,” Alejandro Gómez Dugand, director of magazine 070, told the Knight Center. “Beer, for example, you can choose why you want to drink that beer. For example, to say ‘I want to drink this beer, but also I want to donate the money of this beer to talk about mining in the [department] of Cauca or to talk about the cutting of trees in Chocó’ or something.”

For Vaca as well as Salgar and Gómez, the most important challenge will be to succeed in getting these digital followers to show up in the analogue world and thus to understand a little more about the dynamics of Colombian journalism.

For Gómez, one of the aspects that stands out most in The League is that it addresses one of the most complicated problems of journalism in the country. Although Gómez is not unaware of the violence many journalists face, he believes that in the country there are mechanisms that have somehow tried to conquer it. However, for him, the same thing does not happen with censorship.

“Self-censorship is a much more complex issue, it is much more difficult to be able to convince a journalist from the regions, above all, to attack the problems because he knows that attacking them can often mean problems for him,” Gómez said. “There is a subject of self-censorship that many times is not only violence, but is also commercial. There are entire regions that live from a single company, a factory, a single industry and talking about this industry is to get involved with the owners of the economies in that region. So it is a very difficult subject.”

The League wants to get at least 300 attendees for the party and to be able to publish the resulting works in 2017. And although they know it is a difficult job, they have very big expectations for their network.

“We are happy to be part of The League Against Silence that will not last for the duration of the party,” said Salgar. “The idea is that it grows and works as a network of colleagues to make visible issues related to freedom of expression, like self-censorship in this case, but hopefully in the future there will be many others.”

“Even if the outcomes are not what we expect, the fact that we have created this campaign, the fact that we have managed to join so many media in a single initiative in a country in which the media work like independent islands, is very interesting. And instead of understanding ourselves as competition, we understand ourselves as an ecosystem in which together we can do many important things,” Gómez concluded.

The media that form the initiative convened by FLIP are La Pulla of El Espectador, magazine 070 of the Journalism Center of the University of the Andes, Actualidad PanamericanaEstereotipasHoja BlancaLa Silla VacíaVice Colombia and Verdad Abierta.

Click here to learn how you can attend the event.

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.