Report to the Midyear Meeting
April, 19-22 2022

Among the most significant actions against freedom of the press were aggressive and stigmatizing statements against the press by political leaders in the context of the electoral campaign for Congress and the Presidency - as well as threats and cases of judicial harassment against reporters.

In the first place, the progress of the political campaign in a context of ideological polarization has given way to reprehensible statements by officials and candidates towards journalists and the media.

In the last three months, according to the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP), 13 cases of stigmatization of the media have been documented: seven by officials and six by candidates for Congress and the Presidency.

One of the most striking cases, coming from a presidential candidate, is that of Gustavo Petro - leader of the Historic Pact movement. On Twitter, Petro used the expression the "Neo-Nazis at RCN" - in reference to a column critical of his proposal regarding pensions.

In another incident, presidential candidate Enrique Gómez Martínez said on Twitter that "several media have adopted the flags of drug trafficking" - in reference to the information published by Vorágine, Cambio and El Espectador about the questions surrounding an Army operation that left 11 dead. FLIP rejected this accusation and said that in addition to being unfounded, it seeks to discredit the work of journalists - but, above all, it puts them in danger.

Also of concern was the behavior of the mayor of Medellín, Daniel Quintero, who has used his networks to discredit the journalistic work of the newspaper El Colombiano, of that city. In late January, on his Twitter profile, he published - along with an ironic comment - a false front page of the newspaper without clarifying in any way that he was reproducing false material.

Threats and attacks continue to be an alarming factor for the exercise of press freedom. On April 3, a mortuary car chased the vehicle of Cecilia Orozco - director of Noticias Uno - for two and a half miles. The driver of the vehicle was approached by the police and was unable to give satisfactory explanations - which was interpreted as an act of intimidation.

On January 19, the explosion of a car bomb attributed to FARC splinter groups destroyed the facilities of the digital and print media Trochando Sin Fronteras and the community radio station Sarare Stereo, in Saravena, Arauca department. Days earlier, seven journalists had reported threats from said groups and the ELN - groups fighting for control of illegal revenues - in an attempt to coerce them into publishing information in line with their interests.

In terms of judicial harassment, an increasingly frequent practice, four cases set off alarm bells during this period. Journalists Claudia Báez and Diana Salinas of Cuestión Pública were summoned following a complaint against them by the president of the Senate, Juan Diego Gómez, for compromising allegations published in the article "Sabemos lo que hiciste en la legislatura pasada" ("We know what you did during your last term in office").

Another case is that of journalist Carlos Cortés, denounced by lawyer Abelardo de la Espriella for a tweet against him. In said post, Cortés affirms that De la Espriella "promotes and amplifies disinformation in Colombia." Because of this same message, the lawyer also began civil liability proceedings against the journalist.

Another case involves Gabriel Angarita, a journalist from Cúcuta, who was summoned to a conciliation hearing following a complaint by businessman Víctor Manuel Carillo, who had already tried to hinder his work through a writ of protection.

A fourth case is that of journalist Juan Pablo Barrientos - author of a book in which he denounces numerous cases of sexual harassment and abuse of minors by priests. Late last year - in just one month - Barrientos had to attend seven protection proceedings that sought to breach the confidentiality of the source and censor the publication of his book. These proceedings were brought by different priests from Meta.

There is concern about the lack of answers, progress in the investigations and conclusions on the complaints made about illegal monitoring and profiling of journalists by the Army intelligence branch.

A Bogotá court sentenced Ariel Ortega to 76 months in prison for threats against journalists Julio César González Quiceno (cartoonist known as Matador), Daniel Samper Ospina and María Antonia García de la Torre. Between March and April 2018, Ortega shared multiple death threat messages on his Twitter account - in which he alluded to the need of a Self-Defense Force to silence the press.

Regarding the bills and regulatory norms that put at risk the free exercise of the press, an article that facilitated censorship in the anti-corruption law was not approved. The proposal sanctioned - through the cancellation of legal status - community organizations that made denunciations considered to be unsubstantiated against public officials and former public officials.

Following President Iván Duque's warning that he would object to the law if it were approved with the article in question, Congress found a formula for not including it in the final text of the law during the final phase of conciliation. Duque stated that Colombia - as signatory, at the request of the IAPA, of the Chapultepec Declaration - did not agree with any "gag on press freedom."

Meanwhile, there is concern about the possibility that private TV channels may be subject to new regulations that will increase the disadvantage in which they find themselves in relation to digital platforms. The concern focuses on the role of the Communications Regulatory Commission. Channels claim that they seek to limit their freedom of programming and impose content in prime time. This situation puts them at a competitive disadvantage, discourages investment and could limit their freedoms.

The alert continues regarding bill 600 of 2021 which is being discussed in the House. This bill creates a Commission of Experts, which is not necessary - given the existence of the Communications Regulatory Commission - and which may be set up as a form of prior censorship; since it would have the power to define a catalog of contents which - in a preliminary and generic manner - may be considered capable of infringing the moral, psychological or physical integrity of children and teenagers. The project is pending to be discussed in a second debate.

Another issue is the presidential objection to bill 473 on the repeal of term extensions to meet requests for information. For FLIP, the objection of the Presidency is a serious violation of access to public information, which is detrimental to press freedom and the exercise of investigative journalism - since journalists cannot access this type of information in a timely manner. The issue is pending reconsideration in the House

An initiative to bill 090 of 2021 - which enters the second debate - seeks to cut the mechanism enabling the abuse of the legal system to intimidate and censor matters of public interest.

It is of concern that more cases of murdered journalists are close to the statute of limitations - which are added to the 92 that entered this stage in 2021. On January 23, the statute of limitations expired for the murder of Marco Antonio Ayala - which took place in Cali in 2002. Between April and December of this year, the following murders that took place in 2002 will expire: Walter López (Valle del Cauca), Héctor Sandoval (Valle del Cauca), Víctor Omar Acosta (Valle del Cauca), Efraín Varela Noriega (Arauca), Elizabeth Obando (Tolima), Mario Prada Díaz (Santander), Dennis Segundo Sánchez Lora (Carmen de Bolívar) and Gimbler Perdomo Zamora (Huila).