05 March 2015


Violence against journalists and impunity continue to be the two most serious problems affecting press freedom. In 2014 there were 131 direct attacks that claimed 164 victims. Threats were the most common form of attack, with 60 of them occurring last year. It should be acknowledged, however, that this number does represent a decline. The two most serious incidents during this period were the killings of journalists Édgar Quintero and Luis Peralta Cuéllar. Quintero, a journalist for Radio Luna, was killed on March 2 in the city of Palmira. According to witnesses, Quintero was in a bakery in central Palmira when he was approached by an unknown assailant, who shot him six times. This was after the 57-year-old Quintero had finished the latest broadcast of his radio program “Noticias y algo más.” It is not known why he was killed, but a spokesman for the journalists’ network in Palmira said that Quintero was strident in his criticism and commentary. He had worked in radio journalism for more than 30 years. Peralta Cuéllar, 63, was killed on February 14 as a result of an attack outside his home in the municipality of El Doncello in Caquetá. Peralta was an on-air host for Linda Estéreo, a radio station affiliated with Radio Caracol, and he had denounced administrative corruption and cost overruns in the purchase of trash compactor trucks. He had also reported on irregularities in state-owned enterprises and in matters related to oil drilling. On the day before he was killed, he officially announced his candidacy for mayor. No progress has been made in the homicide cases that are under investigation. For one of the most notorious killings—that of Orlando Sierra, managing editor of La Patria newspaper in Manizales—the court has yet to rule on the appeal of the acquittal of Ferney Tapasco, the political leader who had been accused of ordering the killing. Of the 144 homicides of journalists since 1977, only 19 have resulted in convictions, and only against those who actually carried out the killings. In 2014 the statute of limitations expired in three of these cases. Because so many of these killings remain unsolved when the statute of limitations runs out, and with many new cases involving threats going unsolved as well, civil society organizations have insisted upon the Office of the Attorney General that public policies are needed to reduce impunity. Identifying and punishing the masterminds, they maintain, is the best deterrent.   One such threat was issued on November 30 in Bogotá by a group calling itself the “Capital-Black Eagles Bloc,” and was directed at Canal Capital, Telesur, the website of Reporters Without Borders, and community-based journalist Nelson Arnesto, who runs a website called “Patio bonito al día.” Another case of large-scale intimidation occurred in January in the Caribbean coastal region, with the circulation of flyers signed by the “Gaitanist Self-Defense Caribbean Bloc of Colombia.” The flyers included a list of leaders, officials, human rights advocates, and five journalists from Barranquilla and Santa Marta. In Bello, Antioquia, journalist Oscar Castaño Valencia, who investigates human trafficking, reported that he was the victim of an abduction and act of extortion on November 10 in the course of his work as a reporter. Amalfi Rosales, a correspondent for the “Noticias Uno” news program in La Guajira—who was forced to leave the area last year after unknown assailants fired shots at her home in the municipality of Barrancas—says she is planning to leave the country because the harassment against her has continued during her stay in Bogotá. These threats are apparently related to her reporting on the relationship between former Governor “Kiko” Gómez and paramilitary groups. Nor has there been any progress in the requests for protection for eight journalists in southwestern Colombia whose names appeared on another list disseminated in September and signed by the criminal group known as “Los Rastrojos.” On February 20, the newspaper El Meridiano de Córdoba in Montería was threatened via Facebook by the “M-19 Youth Groups Iván Marino Ospina Bloc,” a group of hooded individuals who days earlier had taken over the administration building at the University of Córdoba. The threats were in response to the newspaper’s publication of a photo showing the takeover. On the legal front, Bill 098 of 2014 “to regulate government advertising and to issue other provisions” awaits its first round of debate in the Senate. This bill includes, among other things, a restriction on the placement of government advertising within six months of an election, which is highly restrictive given that elections are held at least every two years. Another provision in the bill states that in “contracting for advertising and events, priority will be given to ‘official’ media outlets.” A proposed law that is part of the 2014-2018 National Development Plan would deny the Communications Regulatory Commission the ability to issue regulations on net neutrality. The Constitutional Court has yet to rule on the appeal for relief filed by a woman involved in a human trafficking case, who is asking the court to protect her reputation by forcing El Tiempo newspaper to delete from its online archive any stories in which her name is mentioned. This case poses a threat to freedom of speech and freedom of information because it would establish a grave precedent restricting access to news content, thereby undermining the public’s right to its collective memory and its right to information. In a positive development, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling on the proposed statutory law pending before both houses of Congress, which would “regulate the fundamental right of petition.” With regard to this bill, the inspector general of Colombia had asked the court to declare unconstitutional the provision prioritizing the right of petition sought by journalists, on the grounds that this violates the principle of equality and creates more favorable conditions “for certain individuals as a result of their profession.” The court rejected this motion, holding that “the writers of the Constitution did in fact establish special treatment by stating in Article 73 that journalistic activity would enjoy protection to ensure its freedom and professional independence.” Another favorable development for journalism was the decision by Section Two of the Council of State to act to protect the life and safety of Rodrigo Callejas, editor of the newspaper Región al Día in the department of Tolima. As a result of his decision, the National Protection Unit is ordered to “immediately take appropriate measures to ensure that the security detail for Mr. Rodrigo Callejas Bedoya accompany him whenever his work takes him to a municipality other the one in which he resides.” In ruling T-934 of 2014, The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the newspaper El Meridiano de Sucre, which had been asked to correct its use of the word “negrearon” in two articles on the grounds that this word is discriminatory in nature. The court held that “the language used by media outlets in disseminating news and opinion cannot be restricted.” Colloquial language is not forbidden by the Constitution, the court added, especially when such language more effectively expresses and disseminates certain information.