Report to the 71th General Assembly
Charleston, South Carolina
October 2 – 6, 2015
The death of Flor Alba Núñez, 28, is the most serious violation to have occurred in these last six months. She was murdered on September 10 in Neiva, Huila province. She carried out work for the radio station La Preferida and was correspondent of the cable television news station Nación TV.
She was described by her colleagues as "courageous" and persevering. She had recently reported on the torture and killing of a dog, something that went viral on social media and after which she received threats on her Facebook page, where she had published pictures of some delinquents committing a robbery. The authorities point to this fact and at least two more episodes linked to her work as being possible causes of her murder.
The impunity in other crimes and threats continues to be scandalous. In only 19 cases of the 145 journalist homicides since 1977 have there been convictions. There is no record, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom, of one single conviction of someone having threatened a journalist. The announcement of the Colombian Attorney General's Office that it would create a unit of analysis and context that would look into these crimes has not translated into concrete actions worth mentioning.
Among the positive events in these last six months outstanding is the conviction of former member of Congress Ferney Tapasco as the mastermind of the murder of the managing editor of the Manizales newspaper La Patria, Orlando Sierra.
Giving rise to concern is the behavior of Colombian Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre. On at least three occasions the office under his control has cited journalists seeking information that they have obtained within the framework of the practice of their profession. In these last few months he was also in the news for having criticized media that published audiovisual material obtained by security cameras which recorded the explosion of a firecracker in Bogotá. He said then that this kind of recording should be handed over to the courts before being published.
There were strong reactions to remarks made by various officials of the Venezuelan government, in particular those of President Nicolás Maduro, who called the Colombian media oligarchs and terrorists, and those of Foreign Minister Delcy Rodríguez, accusing the Colombian press of distorting the truth in its coverage of the crisis generated by the closure of the Cúcuta border crossing.
Public statements by senior officials, among them the Attorney General, are in addition to monitoring carried out on the Internet without sufficiently clear rules. A survey conducted by the Antonio Nariño Project enables one to see a growing fear of being the object of interceptions and tracking.
Throughout this year there have been recorded 84 violations of press freedom, with 126 victims, including 34 threats, 20 obstructions to journalists' work, nine attacks and one abduction.
Some 86 members of the press in Colombia have safety plans provided by the National Protection Unit. This agency has been the subject of questioning for bad handlings, a situation that has lessened access by those being protected, in this case the journalists, to the services the agency provides.
In the first case in which the mastermind of a crime against journalists has been identified, former member of Congress Ferney Tapasco was sentenced to 36 years in prison for having masterminded the murder of the managing editor of the Manizales newspaper La Patria, Orlando Sierra. He is currently at large.
There are already 70 murder cases that have become subject to statute of limitations.
In the legal area, the rulings of the Constitutional Court are particularly sensitive. Basing itself on the right of individuals to be forgotten, the Court ordered the elimination of content available on news media's websites, giving rise to a debate between the right to information and the right of each citizen to privacy. This discussion has also involved high courts, which have been ordered to suppress the names of those sentenced. The Supreme Court made it clear that it would only proceed in this manner when the sentence has become subject to statute of limitations.
One of these rulings required the website las2orillas.com to withhold the name of a person from an article. Another decision from the Constitutional Court ruled that the newspaper El Tiempo must prevent an article in which a female citizen is mentioned from being listed in search engines, as well as being required to rectify the information and clarify that she is innocent.
Equally disquieting is a bill in Congress that would regulate official advertising. It is giving rise to concerns because it includes various rules limiting or complicating appropriate contracting for official advertising. Among these is a restriction on state advertising two months before any election and a requirement that obliges giving preference to official media in the "contracting and advertising of government events."
In two legislative bills – one which regulates cosmetic surgery and another creating a new National Police Code – restrictions were eliminated that initially referred to news and advertising content. They were amended after legislators received suggestions from the newspaper organization Andiarios.
Concern has arisen over the disclosure of contracts between the firm Hacking Team and the National Police over the extent, still not very clear, of the interception platform known as "Puma." There is the fear that these tools could be used for illegal monitoring of the work of journalists, which has created a certain perception of insecurity and being followed, as was demonstrated by the Antonio Nariño Project investigation.
In the regulation of the use of drones by the Civil Aviation Administrative Department it was achieved that the permits be of a general nature. As originally drafted, it required citizens, including journalists, to obtain individual permits for each use and several days in advance. The process is very complex and makes it difficult to obtain the permits despite the fact that some of the requirements were eased and the possibility of journalists not having to request authorization for each use was contemplated.
On March 11, riot police fired at close hand, contravening rules governing this kind of procedure, and tear gas hit journalist Isnardo Quiroz of CNC Noticias. He was covering a protest by truck drivers within the framework of a national strike.
On March 11, there took place a hearing in the lawsuit that a female member of the public had brought against RCN Radio journalist Juan Pablo Barrientos over his comments against the leader of the Mira movement, Alexandra Moreno Piraquive. This was one of several legal actions taken by that body against journalists after being at the center of a scandal over the leak of some words by its leader in which there was discrimination against the disabled, after which other disclosures of conflicts among the body's leaders were published.
On March 14, Ana Cristina Restrepo, a columnist with the newspapers El Colombiano and El Espectador, reported having received a threatening phone call after publishing an article on the tenements of the crowded Medellín neighborhood Aranjuez. Apparently her work at that place annoyed gangs engaged in drug trafficking.
On April 30, after a court hearing in which he gave testimony against the jailed former La Guajira provincial governor "Kiko" Gómez, reporter tGonzalo Guillén declared having been trailed by several vehicles. Gómez was said to belong to a dangerous criminal gang operating in the north of the country.
On April 19, the case of the murder of journalist Gildardo Ariza Olarte, apparently at the hands of the FARC guerrilla movement, became subject to statute of limitations. He was working as director of the radio station Ondas del Casanare in 1995 when the event occurred.
On April 21, a group of four reporters and cameramen with RCN and Caracol television channels was detained for several hours by indigenous people in the Wayuu community of La Guajira province. They were told to hand over the material they had recorded for reports on a land dispute among members of that community.
On May 17, a stronghold of the old Popular Liberation Army, now dedicated to drug trafficking in the Catatumbo region of northeastern Colombia, detained the publisher of the investigative portal verdadabierta.com, Juan Diego Restrepo, for six hours.
On July 31, through a false Facebook profile, the correspondent of the Cali newspaper El País in Tulúa received threats after he published an article on the capture of a criminal belonging to a gang operating in that town.
On August 17, the case of the murder of journalist Darío Pelayo became subject to statute of limitations. He was killed by guerrillas of the National Liberation Army in August 1995 when he was director of the radio station Llanorámica Estéreo in Puerto Rondón, Arauca.
The former director of the defunct Security Administrative Department María del Pilar Hurtado and former secretary general of the presidency in the Álvaro Uribe government, among others, were found guilty and sentenced for having illegally bugged journalists' telephone lines.
In March, the Bogotá Specialist Court ordered the termination of the investigation against Telesur journalist William Para over alleged links with the FARC guerrilla movement.
In the peace negotiations in Havana between the FARC and the Colombian government, it has been revealed that the FARC has proposed "the democratization of the media." This topic that has not been included in the agreements, and the IAPA must remain vigilant on it.