The media have not been immune to the negative consequences of the Government's actions in dealing with the pandemic.
The sharp downturn in the economy led to a collapse in advertising revenues. The jump in the price of the dollar has raised the cost of supplies such as paper. All the media have felt the severity of the crisis, particularly in small and medium-sized cities. The threat is the spread of the so-called information deserts.
The Media Association (AMI) has worked intensely to promote public policy that would prevent a massive collapse of the media – and the Executive and Legislative branches have paid a receptive ear. The AMI asked that the press be considered a basic necessity – in order to ensure distribution, access to financing to maintain salaries, and exemptions from value added tax. It also asked that advertising investment be deductible from income tax as a stimulus for advertisers and a relief for communicators who have lost their jobs.
The support of the General Attorney's Office, the Ombudsman's Office and the National Federation of Provinces has been very important, and on October 1 an agreement was signed for the strengthening of the media during the pandemic.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FLIP) registered 33 violations of freedom of the press during the social demonstrations on September 9, 10 and 21. The most frequent aggressions were 16 physical assaults, five obstructions, four illegal arrests and three threats. There were 25 cases of aggressions with rubber bullets and stun bombs by the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad. It was reported that while in police custody the communicators were intimidated by the agents and were required to erase files from their devices. There was a case of sexual violence against a female photographer.
On August 13, the indigenous communicator, Abelardo Liz, died from bullet wounds on his chest and abdomen, in the midst of an operation by the National Army to evict indigenous communities in El Barranco, municipality of Corinto - northern Cauca. The case has not been clarified.
On August 4, the First Municipal Criminal Court of Tumaco granted freedom, on account of time limits, to Gustavo Angulo Arboleda - alias Cherry - on trial for aggravated kidnapping and conspiracy to commit a crime, for the kidnapping and murder of Javier Ortega, Paúl Rivas, and Efraín Segarra - a press team from the newspaper El Comercio of Ecuador. The crimes took place between March and April 2018 on the border between Colombia and Ecuador, when journalists were investigating crimes and conflicts in the border region - where guerrilla and organized crime groups operate.
On June 17, the Second Criminal Court of the Circuit of Tumaco - in a second instance decision - granted freedom, on account of time limits, to Gustavo Alonso Ospina Hernández - alias Barbas - accused of filming the survival videos of the journalistic team. The judge considered that the Attorney General's Office did not comply with one of the requirements needed for the application of Law 1809 of 2018, according to which the National Security Council must certify the classification of the Oliver Sinisterra Front as an organized armed group.
On May 1, Semana magazine published its investigative report entitled "Carpetas Secretas" (Secret Folders). It denounced surveillance and profiling activities by the Colombian Army against more than 130 people, including human rights defenders, 52 national and international journalists, politicians, union leaders, and members of the armed forces. The document cites conversations between five journalists and their sources.
It was reported that the Medellín Mayor's Office was tracking journalists in social networks through Selecta Consulting Group. Telemedellín was the contracting entity on behalf of the administration, with the main objective of doing "strategic analysis of social networks." The journalists affected are Clara Giraldo, José Guarnizo, Pascual Gaviria and Ana Cristina Restrepo, as well as the Juan Paz news service. City officials tried to force national and local media to boost the mayor's image in exchange for official publicity.
The Voces del Guayabero journalists, Fernando Osorio and Edilson Álvarez, reported that they had been intimidated and irregularly detained by members of the National Army while covering operations involving the forced eradication of illicit crops in Meta.
On August 7, journalists Cipriano López, Lina María Peña, Yannis Moscote, Víctor Polo, Miguel Martínez, Víctor Rodríguez, Aristides Herrera and Leopoldo Díaz Granados, received a signed pamphlet from the ELN declaring them military targets with the following warning: "you are given 48 hours to leave the country with your families or prepare to face the consequences."
On June 17, journalist Dubán García received a pamphlet signed by the FARC with threats that also included the names of reporters Germán Arenas, Luis Eduardo Alegría, Julián Andrade and Jairo Figueroa. The pamphlet accuses the journalists of being accomplices of the Putumayo provincial government.
A high court determined that a traffic accident can in itself be a news event and of interest to society, after reviewing a petition for protection from a citizen who demanded that the Cali newspaper El País remove the video of his car accident from its digital edition. The ruling states that jurisprudence does not consider that good reputation is affected when exposing an image to divulge this type of news event, and that the media can use the images without asking authorization from those involved.
In a historic decision, the Administrative Court of Cundinamarca held the State accountable as an accomplice to violence against the press - after eight years - following the suit filed by journalist Claudia Julieta Duque Orrego and her family, on account of the kidnapping, threats, and psychological torture they suffered in 1999. The journalist was kidnapped while investigating the murder of journalist Jaime Garzón.
The court concluded that a criminal organization had been created within the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) to intimidate journalists. It also stated that the Ministry of the Interior failed to comply with its obligation to adopt protective measures, and that the Attorney General's Office did not carry out the investigations "in an accurate, swift, and efficient manner."
A bill establishes safeguards for the fundamental right to honor, reputation, personal and family privacy and image, setting regulations for when these rights collide with freedom of opinion. There is concern that this law would replace the deliberation of the constitutional judges who hear these cases.
Another bill declares Internet access a fundamental right - amending article 20 of the Constitution. It states that "every person is guaranteed freedom to express and disseminate their thoughts and opinions, to inform and receive truthful and impartial information, to have effective access to the Internet, and to establish mass media outlets. These are free and have social responsibility. The right to rectification under equitable conditions is guaranteed. There will be no censorship, it will be universal and with protection of privacy and intimacy."
The media expressed concern that the protection of privacy and intimacy is established over freedom of expression - when these rights already have an autonomous article that regulates them.
Another bill regulates advertising on social networks by prohibiting messages that encourage behavior harmful to health, human safety or the environment; that incite violence or anti-social behavior; that appeal to fear or superstition or that may encourage abuse, recklessness, negligence or aggressive behavior; that incite cruelty or mistreatment of people or animals, or the destruction of natural or cultural property; and that discriminate on the basis of race, sex, nationality or political opinion. Furthermore, it specifies that they must not induce minors to purchase a product or service by taking advantage of their inexperience or credulity, or sponsor, advertise or recommend medicines, homeopathic medicines, dietary supplements, physiotherapeutic products, and functional foods.
On October 15, the Superior Court of Bogotá ordered RCN RADIO and the journalist Vicky Dávila to compensate Jorge Hilario Estupiñan - former commander of the National Police - and his family, arguing that their image had been damaged for having reproached their conduct by air in a case of alleged corruption and having referred to an ongoing investigation without its having been concluded. The legal thesis put forward by the Civil Chamber of the Court constitutes not only a violation of freedom of expression and the healthy and necessary public debate regarding the conduct of officials who are being investigated, but also constitutes a dangerous and absurd precedent, according to which no media or journalist could refer to a pending investigation until it is concluded with an acquittal or conviction.
FLIP also expressed its concern about this ruling, which "ignores international standards of freedom of expression, which protect speech in all its forms and manifestations."
During this semester four cases of murder against journalists have expired due to the lack of progress in the criminal process. María Elena Salinas, murdered on March 5, 2000 in San Carlos, Antioquia - she worked for several radio stations in the region. Jhon Jairo Restrepo, murdered on March 6, 2000 in Girón Santander - he worked as a cameraman in the local channel of Barrancabermeja. Carlos José Restrepo Rocha, murdered on September 7, 2000 in San Luis, Tolima - he worked at El Tangente, El Día and Señal San Luis. Juan Camilo Restrepo Guerra, murdered on October 31, 2000 in Ebéjico, Antioquia - he worked in the radio station Galaxia Stéreo.
Three cases will expire this year: Alfredo Abad López, murdered in Florencia, Caquetá, on December 13, 2000; Guillermo León Agudelo, murdered in Florencia, Caquetá, on November 30, 2000 and Gustavo Ruiz Cantillo, murdered in Pivijay, Magdalena, on November 15, 2000.
In what was considered an act of intolerance to freedom of the press and expression, in mid-October, the mayor of the city of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, publicly requested that the director of Information of the newspaper El País, Diego Martínez Lloreda, for comments that the journalist made about the situation regarding various events in the city.