UN recognizes Colombian public TV station's work covering human rights

By Alejandro Martínez

When acclaimed Colombian journalist Hollman Morris was named last year as the new manager of Bogotá's public TV station Canal Capital, it seemed like a risky strategy to remove most of the channel's commercial programming and devote more resources to covering human rights.

But a year after the new focus started, Canal Capital is receiving important recognitions that are validating the station's direction.

In April, the office of the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights praised the channel's work and, in an unprecedented move, signed an agreement to work with the station to produce more programming that opens spaces to minorities and makes victims of violence more visible.

The UN's Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, recently said that Canal Capital is the only channel in the world that "uses the promotion of human rights as an instrument." And in a visit to Bogotá last week, the High Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, applauded the alliance once again and called it a model to follow in other countries.

"I hope this partnership will repeat here and in other countries. Canal Capital provides a good example of how human rights mechanisms in Geneva can be replicated," she said.

The agreement represents the first time that the High Commissioner's office partners up with a TV channel. In it, the High Commissioner's office agrees to work as a consultant for Canal Capital whenever the station works on new programming.

Under Morris' leadership, Canal Capital has focused on producing inclusive programming, promoting a culture of peace and opening the airwaves to victims of violence. The mayor of Bogotá, Gustavo Petro, has also pushed for larger investments in Canal Capital to improve its infrastructure and upgrade to digital broadcasts.

Morris has also faced a few challenges at Canal Capital. Late last year, a councilman in Bogotá pressured the channel to obtain a list of its gay employees, which Morris refused to hand over. Back then, Morris said the request was meant as an attack after the channel aired a number of important exclusives, like statements from the former leader of the paramilitary organization AUC, Salvatore Mancuso, who claimed he had met with former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

Morris was the recipient of the Human Rights Award in 2007 and the Nuremberg Award to Human Rights in 2011. In 2010, he received Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship, which allowed him to leave Colombia for a few years and protect himself against death threats issued against him.

Morris returned to Colombia in February 2012 after being named Canal Capital's new manager under Petro's government plan, "Humaine Bogotá," which has promised to pursue social equality in the city.

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.