Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016


The kidnapping by the National Liberation Army (ELN) of journalist of El Tiempo and El Mundo of Spain Salud Hernández Mora, and reporters Diego D'Pablos and Carlos Melo of the RCN television channel, in the Catatumbo region, was the most relevant event in this period. The three fortunately were freed a few days later after shock being expressed in various sectors of opinion.

In this period 157 journalists complained of having been the victims of some kind of conduct violating the freedom of information enshrined in the Constitution.

Of concern is the fact that attacks by National Police officers on journalists have increased. They had been lessening since 2013. A news team from the Bogotá television channel CityTV was intimidated by officers of the Bogotá Metropolitan Police, who were then fired.

There had been concern regarding those points of the agreement between the government and the FARC guerrilla force that could imply the work of the press being regulated.

Among these what was requested was "opening of spaces in broadcast outlets institutional and regional channels aimed at the dissemination of the work of social organizations and movements" that gave rise to doubts about its reach.

Through a resolution the National Electoral Council (CNE), in order to "guarantee pluralism, informational balance and impartiality," required media to send a weekly report with the times and the spaces devoted to the Yes and No campaigns. This resolution gave the CNE the power to order precautionary rectifications and to suspend or withdraw propaganda that could be "used with anti-democratic ends, violence or anything else that seeks to misinform the voter."

This norm also left with the media responsibility concerning possible anomalies in polls and arbitrarily established a restriction that prevented the publication of polls six days before an election.

Following complaints by various media and entities that represent them a new resolution modified some of what was stated. Eliminated for print media was the report's requirement concerning spaces granted to each campaign, and restricted was the responsibility for anomalies in polls that could be presented on the technical dates, leaving all the other aspects subject to controversy intact.

Another decree of the federal government established that all information concerning public order should be based on official sources and the dissemination of interviews on voting day was restricted.

The editor of the Barranquilla newspaper El Heraldo, Marco Schwartz, published a communiqué from the Colombian Attorney General's Office in which announced was the opening of a preliminary inquiry against two Barranquilla High Court judges for possible breach of public duty, which led those involved to request a rectification. Even while not being obliged to, the newspaper gave space to the judges for them to give their point of view. However, they opted to go to court to obtain a rectification as they wanted and Schwartz was close to having to face imprisonment for contempt. In the end this did not happen after the same Barranquilla court revoked the decision, following the rejection that the matter gave rise to.

Worth mentioning is the initiative "Pitalito Without Censorship Project" that arose due to the murder in Pitalito, Huila, of journalist Flor Alba Núñez Vargas on September 10, 2015, on the initiative of Colprensa, Andiarios and the Foundation for Press Freedom and journalists of Semana, El Espectador, El Tiempo, La Patria and La Nación. One year after the murder a series of reports called attention to the situation of abandonment by the press in Pitalito and the high degree of self-censorship. It was said that while the perpetrator of the crime was arrested the justice system had not yet identified the masterminds.

There is concern at the risks arising from the protection frameworks. There is a report of two cases in which the people assigned by the National Protection Unit for custody of threatened journalists had a relationship with those that threatened them.

This same entity has substituted the support for transportation of journalists at risk with a panic button, which on being activated sends a signal to the National Protection Unit, an agency where decisions are taken to give immediate attention. This technological development has given rise to doubts not only about its effectiveness but also regarding the fact that its technology allows anyone carrying it to learn his or her whereabouts, which opens up a window of risk.

President Juan Manuel Santos gave a commitment to the FLIP to shorten the times of protocols and procedures in the protection system. Also, following the meeting there was installed a desk for the review of procedures in order to relieve overcrowding and deal with cases more rapidly.

The change in the office of Colombian Attorney General has given rise to hope in that Eduardo Montealegre, who occupied the post up to July, had committed to prioritizing cases of attacks upon journalists, something that did not happen. There were advances, on the other hand, concerning the citation of journalists that this agency made and which contains guidelines for prosecutors.

For their participation in the kidnapping, torture and rape of journalist Jineth Bedoya paramilitaries Alejandro Cárdenas, ak.a. "JJ," and Mario Jaimes , a.k.a. "The Baker," were excluded from the benefits to which they had a right for having adhered to the Justice and Peace Law that enabled the demobilization of the paramilitary groups.

Similarly, Bedoya refused to conciliate with the Colombian government at the urging of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. There was returned the amount corresponding to the indemnity that was given her by the National Attention and Integral Reparations to Victims Unit.

Congress Secretary General Gregorio Ejach was understood to have obstructed the work of a female journalism student in asking her for the photos that she had taken on her camera. She says that a security team detained her and told her that as a condition to be allowed to leave the Capitol building she should hand over these images, which were returned to her minus those in which Ejach appeared, and that gave rise to the incident.

Four former officials of the now no longer existing Administrative Department of Security (DAS) were linked to the case of psychological torture of journalist Claudia Julieta Duque.

There continue to be legal actions that appeal the right to be forgotten and that seek to update or eliminate contents, something that without a doubt restricts the work of the press. This has given rise to confusion due to the fact that there does not exist a pronouncement by a high court that sets jurisprudence in this regard.

A bill would create a national registry of sexual offenses, stating that "all who have been handed down an executory sentence have the right to be forgotten" for then to raise an exception in the case of these delinquents. Such allusion is of concern in that indirectly, and without the intention of being the norm, there is consecrated said right, which is increasingly the argument of those who ask the media to erase information from their digital archives.

Concern was raised at a bill to amend the electoral code and restrict the time in which electoral propaganda is authorized to a lapse of two calendar months, smaller than the current one which is three, and that interviews be regulated.

There continues the trend to restrict advertising content. This is expressed in a bill that would regulate sugar products and include regulation of advertising pieces of these.

There continues under discussion the bill that would regulate official advertising and include restricting it to six months before any election without considering the recurrence of these in the country's political life. It would give privilege to official media, restricting hiring processes.

Once again the government through the Ministry of Foreign Trade will submit to Congress a bill on copyright. Various voices have said that as it is contemplated said text restricts freedom of expression of parody as well as setting disproportionate sanctions.

RCN Televisión has described, at this general assembly, how it has been the victim of "political bullying" by various actors in Colombia. Amid the political controversy and growing polarization around the referendum, efforts have been made to stigmatize RCN Televisión by labeling it a "pro-war" media outlet — despite its editorial line in support of peace-building — because it has criticized certain aspects of the peace agreements and has provided airtime to those who supported the "no" vote.