The IAPA Expresses Concern Over President Petro's Hostile Rhetoric Against the Press

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Miami (July 2, 2024) - The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) expressed concern and alarm over the escalating verbal attacks by Colombian President Gustavo Petro against local media and journalists, as well as against the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP). The organization urged the president to show tolerance towards criticism, considering this attitude a threat to press freedom and the integrity of journalists.

Tensions intensified following the June 23 publication of a column by journalist María Jimena Duzán in Cambio magazine, where she raised questions about alleged irregularities in multimillion-dollar state contracts involving Andrés Sarabia, brother of Laura Sarabia, a close aide to President Petro and director of the Administrative Department of the Presidency (Dapre). Duzán reported being threatened following Petro's criticism and accusations, who referred to her journalistic work as "Mossad journalism."

In response to Petro's reaction, FLIP stated in a release that "the president's rhetoric promotes hostility towards the press, thereby weakening public debate on issues of great importance to citizens." The head of State also targeted the organization by alleging that "one of its founders is accused of forming paramilitary groups." Petro confirmed this accusation was aimed at former Vice President Francisco Santos, as reported by Radio Caracol on its website.

Accusations heightened after a column by journalist Ana Bejarano in Cambio defended FLIP from the president's attacks. Bejarano argued that Petro is "on a crusade against the press" and seeks to become "the sole source of truth." The Colombian president responded with a lengthy diatribe on his X account, stating, "Neo-Nazi groups seem to dominate the media narrative." Petro accused the press of lying about his government and attempting to destroy his public image, alleging that the media are spreading propaganda for "the far right," according to press reports.

In a public letter released on Saturday, FLIP's board of directors, assembly, and management team urged Petro to respect "pluralism, democracy, oversight of the powerful, and refrain from stigmatizing journalists."

Roberto Rock, president of IAPA and director of the news portal La Silla Rota in Mexico City, expressed that "the hostile and belligerent discourse of the head of state against local media and journalists, and the misrepresentation of FLIP's role, foster a climate that can lead to threats and physical violence. We urge President Petro to avoid stigmatization and to respect dissent."

Carlos Jornet, president of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, added, "We observe with concern a hostile environment for journalistic work in Colombia, exacerbated in recent weeks by Petro's excessive expressions."

Jornet, editorial director of La Voz del Interior newspaper in Córdoba, Argentina, urged the president to "show tolerance" and emphasized that according to Inter-American standards on freedom of expression, "public officials are subject to greater scrutiny, so they must ensure transparency and respond to what they consider inaccuracies with precise information rather than stigmatization and discredit."

IAPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression in the Americas. It comprises more than 1,300 publications from the western hemisphere and is based in Miami, Florida, United States.

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