Press freedom in this period has been beset by the intimidation of journalists through threats, obstruction of their work, limits placed on access to information and through the use of judicial measures. According to a report by the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) between November and March there were two murders, thirteen threats, fifteen attacks and seven forms of obstruction. In recent months court rulings in favor of press freedom have proliferated. Conviction of columnist Mauricio Vargas on a contempt charge was overturned and at a preliminary hearing investigation into alleged libel by Alejandro Santos, editor of the weekly Semana, was ordered halted. In addition, columnist Alfredo Molano was acquitted on a defamation charge. A means of putting pressure on media and journalists has been the increasing use of legal actions, such as custody orders, civil lawsuits and reparations demands as well as criminal charges. In particular, and a recent development, there has been an increase in the use of formal complaints that under Colombian law are known as “Popular Actions,” which give the complainant a financial incentive and are being utilized with the aim of preventing publication of certain advertising content, especially that concerning liquor, in print news media. The most worrisome such action is currently under way against the newspaper El Tiempo seeking reinstatement of columnist Claudia López, whom the paper, acting under its editorial autonomy, fired some six months ago. The action cites pluralism and the people’s collective rights. In the battle against impunity the results have raised concern. Released from jail, on two court orders, were the persons allegedly responsible for the murder of José Duviel Vasquez, a reporter with La Voz de la Selva radio station, killed on July 6, 2001 in Florencia, Caquetá province, and of José Everardo Aguilar, a correspondent of Radio Súper and Bolívar Estéreo, slain on April 24, 2009 in the municipality of Patia, Cauca province. It is nevertheless hoped that the decisions taken by the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the cases of Luis Eduardo Afonso, director of the Arauca radio station Meridiano 70, murdered on March 18, 2003, and of Jaime Rengifo Revero, owner of the El Guajiro News Company and head of the foundation Periodistas en Acción, killed on April 23, 2003, will produce exemplary decisions on the part of judges. In both cases the Public Prosecutor’s Office has charged paramilitaries with aggravated homicide. At the request of the Colombian newspaper association Andiarios the Attorney General’s Office on February 18 delivered an initial report on the state of the cases of threats against journalists in Colombia. Two years ago, in the light of hundreds of denunciations of threats, Andiarios in conjunction with the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) asked the Attorney General’s Office to strengthen and adopt measures to ensure results in these investigations. To this effect they handed over, on the basis of information provided by the Interior Ministry’s Committee for the Protection of Journalists, 26 relevant cases for the Attorney General’s Office to give them priority. The report shows that these cases remain active, one of them at the trial stage, two in the preliminary hearing stage and the rest under initial investigation. Other developments that have caused concern have to do with the closure of the magazine Cambio, regarding which a heated debate has been generated about the effects if might have on exposure and investigative reporting and he handling of bids for space on the regional television channel Telepacífico, which according to some leading news media editors and publishers has lacked openness and objectivity. There is a concern over the self-censorship to which some medium-sized regional and provincial media have been subjected, as well as the intimidations and threats of which they are permanent victims to prevent or make more difficult their investigative work and reports that they conduct in their regions. On the legislative front during this period a bill was withdrawn that sought to make newspapers responsible for discriminatory content of advertisements, a responsibility is advertiser’s, not the media outlet’s. Amended was a second bill which would require all news media, privately-owned as well as publicly-owned, to publish content designed to tell of the reality and value of the nation’s language and cultural diversity, now a requirement of the public media. A third bill to restrict the use of images and information on the front pages of print media, thus violating the ban on censorship under the Political Constitution, will be debated when the legislative sessions reopen. Several bills that in one way or another affect newspapers directly or indirectly continue under study: –Bill No. 213 of 2009: ignoring the Constitution and case law would again establish qualifications for working as a journalist, create a National Communicator and Journalist Guild and empower it to apply a “Sole Code of Ethics” and levy sanctions on journalists. —Bill No, 280 of 2009 would require newspapers to publish information aimed at locating missing children. This requirement, although it has a laudable purpose, goes against newspaper’s editorial autonomy and amounts to a means of censorship that opens the possibility for the government, any time it sees fit, to require newspapers to publish certain content. —Bill No. 160 of 2009 would set taxes on, among others, online mass media. —Bill No. 022 of 2009 would confirm registration and prior licensing of street newspaper vendors, which is a form of indirect censorship. Five bills seek bans or restrictions on disseminating advertising concerning energy drinks, medications, with or without medical prescription, and alcoholic beverages. Most relevant developments in this period: In November Popayán Specialist First Court Judge Víctor Narváez acquitted and set free Arly Manquillo Rivera, a.k.a. Huracán, who had been arrested and charged with being the hitman who on April 24, 2009 killed José Everardo Aguilar at his home. The judge disallowed the evidence presented by the public prosecutor, including the fact that Aguilar’s daughter, Agnolia, testified as to the facts and recognized the accused. Instead, he believed the defense of the defendant, who presented two witnesses – the wife of the alleged hitman and a neighbor, who said that on the day concerned Manquillo was at a meeting at the local government office. Reporter Carlos Gutiérrez and his cameraman Edison Ardín of the regional television channel Telepacífico filed a complaint that they had been attacked by a prison guard when members of the Highway Police carried out an operation to check that drivers were complying with highway security regulations. The complaint said the Highway Police officers arrested Eddy Pineda Martínez, a guard at the Palmira prison, who the journalists said had insulted them, grabbed their camera and beat them. In December it was learned of the existence of a manual said to have been drawn up by the Administrative Security Department (DAS) on how to tail journalists, among them Claudia Julieta Duque, an investigator with the José Alvear Bar Association. The document, discovered in raids ordered by the Attorney General’s Office during an investigation into unlawful wiretapping of judges, opposition leaders and journalists, contained Duque’s personal details, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. The book also explained how to threaten her, telling her that her daughter, who at the time was 10 years old, could be raped and burned alive. Harold Rivas Quevedo, director of the “Comuna Libre” program broadcast by the CNC Bugavisión television channel in Valle del Cauca, was shot five times and killed on December 15 at the funeral parlor he managed. Javier Gil, a friend of Rivas who was with him moments before the murder, told the IAPA Rapid Response Unit that Rivas “went straight from the TV station to the funeral parlor and there a hitman with his face covered shot him to death.” Rivas, who had worked as a sports commentator until a year ago at Voces de Occidente, had been hosting that news program for four months, during which time he raised a variety of topics concerning local politics and community leaders. It is not clear if his murder was linked to his work as a journalist. In January, the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP) reported that police officers in Funza, Cundinamarca province, prevented the distribution of the news bulletin El Libelo, during a report session of the city government. The news bulletin exposed a number of cases of abuse of authority by the local police against street vendors. Guillermo Andrés Castro, editor of the El Macarenazo newspaper, in charge of distributing the news bulletin, said that he was seized by the police officers and made to hand over the copies. Also in January, Javier Gómez Garcés, former announcer with the local television channel Telepetróleo in Barrancabermeja, Santander province, reported that he was threatened by unknown assailants who pointed a gun at him and told him, “Journalist, don’t play the brave one, the cemetery is full of brave ones.” Gómez decided to leave the city for his safety. He had made denunciations concerning infrastructure projects that the current administration of that petroleum export port was working on. On February 3, the El Tiempo News Company (CEET) announced the closure of the magazine Cambio and the newspaper Hoy, citing financial problems. In a press release CEET, whose majority shareholder is the Planeta Group of Spain, explained that the decision was due to “the world decline of news and political magazines due to a change in readers’ habits and as consequence a downturn in investment decisions of advertisers in this kind of magazine.” For his part, Rodrigo Pardo, Cambio’s editor, and María Elivar Samper, its editor-in-chief, told various news media that the decision was due to the editorial stance of the magazine, which had uncovered the most serious corruption scandals in the last year, involving the government of President Alvaro Uribe, an allegation that was backed by journalists and academics. The Bogotá High Court threw out a warrant for the arrest of El Tiempo columnist Mauricio Vargas. In revoking the order for him to be held for three days made by a court in Bogotá for alleged contempt of Judge José Alfredo Escobar the High Court declared the contempt charge unfounded. The court pointed out that Vargas had complied with an order to correct a statement about the judge. On February 9, the judge of the Bogotá Fourth Criminal Court acquitted El Espectador columnist Alfredo Molano Bravo of a charge of libel. He ruled, citing freedom of opinion and information, that in the column titled “Araújos et al,” published in February 2007, there was no evidence of the alleged harmful consequences for the reputation and dignity of the Araújo family, the claimant in the case. In statements made to the FLIP, executives of the “Noticiero 90 Minutos” program broadcast for the past 20 years on the regional television channel Telepacífico, complained that they had been banished by the committee in charge of evaluating proposals, from the prime time slot to the one with least viewers during the call for bids to allocate times for the channel’s news broadcasts. They reported that “the rescission is the result of their independent posture in regard to the governance of the Cauca Valle.” Also in February, five journalists in Cartago, Valle del Cauca, reported threats made in leaflets. FLIP identified the complainants as Luis Fernando Gil of the local television CNC channel’s program “Hora 13;” Raúl Parra of the publication La Hoja de Parra; Fernando Posso a local columnist; Hernando Posada Echeverri of the CNC program “Chiva Noticias,” and Héctor Fabio García a reporter with radio station Cartago Estéreo. The leaflet, signed by the self-styled group “Los Doce del Patíbulo” (The Gallows Twelve), declared as military objectives those people who are apparently not in agreement with the work of the current Cartago mayor, Germán Gonzalez Osorio. Arrested in March was former congressman Ferney Tapasco Gonzalez on orders of the Special Anti-Terrorism Prosecutor’s Office in Bogotá, which is prosecuting him for alleged conspiracy to commit serious crime. In August 2009 Attorney General Alejandro Ordoñez asked the Public Prosecutor’s Office to link Tapasco and his son Dickson, a former member of the House of Representatives, as alleged masterminds in the investigation into the January 30, 2002 murder of Orlando Sierra, managing editor of the newspaper La Patria, in Manizales. News photographers Gabriel Aponte of El Espectador and Raúl Palacios of the Colprensa news agency were attacked in Bogotá by Tapasco’s companions as they covered there arrival there of Tapasco, who had been arrested in Manizales. On the night of March 19, journalist Clodomiro Castilla Ospino was murdered. He was the editor and owner of the magazine El Pulso del Tiempo and a reporter for La Voz de Montería, Córdoba, a region battered by the paramilitary phenomenon. From the way it appears, the journalist had threats made against him, for which reason he had had a police escort since last year. Police protection had been removed some weeks ago.