IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11

Several events occurring in these past six months placed press freedom again at the center of debate.

That which caused most concern was the denunciation that several members of the press made about serious anomalies in the National Police Force that include the existence of a network of male prostitution with tentacles in the Congress and, above all, this force's monitoring of journalists that revealed these things.

This comes within a series of signs of possible spying by the state intelligence service, particularly the police force, on journalists.

Within this framework another scandalous fact was published by broadcast station La FM, whose director is Vicky Dávila. It is a video in which a senator and a police officer were holding a conversation with high sexual content, something that implied a debate on freedom of information and the limit between the private sphere and public actions of those involved.

A few days later Dávila resigned and although he did so on terms respectful of RCN Radio in an interview granted to Daniel Coronell and published in the magazine Semana he stated that in his departure there had been pressures from the Colombian President's Office.

President Juan Manuel Santos denied the pressure but it was unfortunate that there had been raised the rhetorical question as to whether Dávila's decision to bring the audiovisual piece to public light was or not an example of good journalism.

In another development members of the FARC guerrilla movement prevented reporters from covering one of the events in which its leaders, coming from Cuba, were going to institutionalize agreements in Cauca province. This gave rise to confusion as the government had made a strong pronouncement against such actions after one of them, which took place in Guajira, gave rise to strong criticism by the opposition due to its public nature when it was supposed that it should be private. This brought to mind the failed negotiation that had as its epicenter the municipality of San Vicente de Caguán during the Andrés Pastrana government (1998-2002). The Executive Branch rapidly clarified that such restrictions fall only upon the FARC and there had been consensus regarding the need to come up with protocols guaranteeing freedom of the press without putting at risk the process's good progress.

There continues to be lack of punishment in several cases of the murder of journalists. In this period there became subject to statute of limitations two of them, the Ernesto Acero and Alfredo Antonio Matiz cases. And while there has to be stressed the important advance that was represented by the conviction of two assailants of Jineth Bedoya (a kidnap, torture and sexual violence victim in 2000 while she was investigating the existence of an arms trafficking network in the country's main prison), the case has not been fully solved. Mario Jaimes Mejía, a.k.a. El Panadero, sentenced to 28 years in prison, admitted the charges of abduction and sexual abuse. For these same offenses also sentenced, to 11 years and five months imprisonment, was Alejandro Cárdenas Orozco, a.k.a. JJ, who admitted being guilty of abduction and torture but denied being responsible for the offense of sexual violation.

In only 19 cases of the 145 murders that have been presented since 1977 have there been convictions. In addition, there has been no record, according to the Foundation For Press Freedom (FLIP) of one sole conviction of someone who has threatened a journalist.

In this period there took place the initiative titled "Pitalito Without Censorship" on the occasion of the first anniversary of the death of journalist Flor Alba Núñez. Organized by Andiarios, Colprensa and FLIP the campaign brought together 14 newspapers that published three reports on the result of the work of eight journalists who went to this town in Huila province with the objective of sending a blunt message to those who had ordered Núnez's death. The journalists investigated mafias of various kinds presumably linked to local circles of power believed to be linked to the crime. The perpetrator has already been captured but nothing is known of the masterminds.

The Right to Oblivion is a topic that is giving rise to increasing concern given the fact that on the rise are requests to media with the intent that the names of people in the news that remain in their digital files be erased. A recent ruling of the Supreme Court opened up a disturbing window in saying that newspapers should have real-time control over their repositories, which would imply that once the legal situation of a person mentioned in a news item changes this should be immediately reflected in the article, something that is practically unfeasible.

Other relevant events:

In Caucasia, Antioquía, the murder occurred on November 23 of journalist Dorance Herrera. There is no evidence that the reason for his murder was connected to his work as a journalist.

El Espectador reporter Édinson Bolaños was the recipient of serious threats after publishing a report with denunciations of the interests said to be behind apparently legal mining companies currently in conflict with traditional miners in Buenos Aires, Cauca. The intimidations caused him to leave the area and relocate in Bogotá.

There has arisen concern over a legislative bill to amend the Criminal Procedure Code promoted by the Colombian Attorney General's Office that seeks to increase the discretionary powers of judges at the time of setting limits to the work of news media in coverage of criminal cases. What is behind this initiative are "media cases" calls, that is to say those cases which recently have generated enormous interest among the people and on which news coverage is sought to be lessened.

In a ruling by the Council of State the Colombian government was declared responsible and condemned for the death of journalist Efraín Varela which occurred in Arauca on June 28, 2002. The tribunal recognized the complicity of members of the Armed Forces who facilitated the action by the paramilitary group Vencedores, responsible for the crime.

Of concern is the hostile attitude towards the local press by the mayor of Yopal, Casanare. He is engaged in criminal proceedings, having already admitted charges of illegal urbanization, and was detained early in March. His officials were accused of obstructing the work of the press.

Concern was raised at a writ with which the director of the Colombian Institute of Family Wellbeing, Cristina Plazas, sought the closing down of the Twitter account of journalist Gonzalo Guillén from which he had launched strong criticisms.

Caracol Radio journalist Pascual Gaviria was the object of death threats in October. Intimidating messages were sent to the radio station after he expressed opinions about the peace process and denounced questionable practices to secure voters in the campaign of then candidate to the Antioquia provincial government Luis Pérez.

In December the National Historical Memory Center published an article titled "The Word and Silence. The Violence Against Journalists in Colombia 1977-2014" by Germán Rey. It was regarded as the most complete work on violence against the press during the armed conflict.

It is now 30 years since the murder of Guillermo Cano. While the case has been declared a crime against humanity there has been no progress in the investigation into it.