Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa - FLIP

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Monday, 10 July 2017 14:54

FLIP talks before the Inter American Commission on Human Rights to explain Colombia’s problems on freedom of expression

Vivian Newman, member of the board, and Pedro Vaca, FLIP's Excecutive Director Vivian Newman, member of the board, and Pedro Vaca, FLIP's Excecutive Director Photo: Arturo Huerta / IACHR

Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) gave a presentation at a hearing held by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) regarding press freedom in Colombia. During the hearing, FLIP exposed the main difficulties for journalism in the country. The State was represented by functionaries from the General Prosecutor’s Office (GP), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the National Protection Unit (NPU) and the National Unit for Victim’s Reparation and Attention (NUV). Those entities explained some of the actions that are being undertaken to mitigate some of the problems explained by FLIP.

FLIP’s presentation showed that, although murders of journalists have been reduced in the recent years, there are other problems for press freedom in the country. Between 2016 and the first semester of 2017, FLIP reported 373 cases of attacks against the press. Among those cases are six kidnappings in El Catatumbo region. Despite the favourable progress of the peace process with FARC, other illegal actors like the organized crime and the ELN and EPL guerrillas are violating press freedom in the Colombian regions. FLIP emphasized that the government’s protection mechanism responds to threats instead of preventing them. Moreover, there is no link between NPU’s and GP’s work. NPU’s Director explained that his agency has worked in establishing new protocols and in training its risk assessment analysts.

The Fundation also referred to the high level of impunity in violence against the press: 99,7% and 100% of impunity in murders and threats, respectively. Additionally, the statute of limitations expired in 47,7% of the murder cases. Among other things, the GP explained that it has worked on prioritizing cases, creating context analysis reports and training detectives and prosecutors with support of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR (SR).

Alongside with these problems, the peace process of FARC has also brought challenges for journalism. FLIP stated that FARC, UN and the Colombian Government give a favourable treatment to mainstream media and to those ones with a positive view of the peace process. The coverage of  special areas for re-location of ex combatants has been difficult to small media and to those who have been critical to the peace process.

FLIP also exposed that the Colombian public servers tend to fail in their basic obligations in the guarantee of a favourable environment for freedom of expression. As an example of that, ten senators from different political parties requested the imprisonment of a journalist during a debate in which the Senate’s Secretary simulated being hit by a camera. Another example is the attitude of current President, Juan Manuel Santos, who usually refers to his past as a journalist in order to criticize the work of journalists. Moreover, during a meeting, Santos invited businessmen to call media outlets to request a more favourable coverage of economic issues.

In the same line, RCN, a radio and TV outlet with critical visions about the government, has been victim of pressures. Recently, a Military court called a journalist of that medium to reveal a source. Additionally, two ex-ministers who are implicated in a corruption scandal have pressured this medium through judiciary means.

Among other situations, FLIP emphasized that the armed forces are one of the main aggressors of the press:  FLIP has received reports of 13 attacks and 12 obstructions to coverage in which those entities are accountable. FLIP also called on the Commission’s attention to the online freedom issues, particularly to the lax surveillance legislation and the one year blocking of a webpage critical to one governmental educative program. Moreover, FLIP referred to its research “Cartographies of information”, which has evaluated the media landscape in 13% of the 31 Colombian regions. This research has showed that at least 83 municipalities don’t have any kind of media. In other places, media are only dedicated to reproduce music. Furthermore, there are places in which the radio stations are owned by the army. A conclusion from that study is that a relevant part of the country is silenced.

The peace process will bring opportunities for improvement. The agreements between FARC and the Colombian government include the allocation of new radio licenses and the development of a normative adjustment in the allocation of public advertisement resources. According to FLIP, there are media that rely 80% on that kind of income sources. Moreover, community media is constantly facing challenges to comply with the broadcasting regulation.

At the end of the hearing, the SR recalled his interest in supporting public policy processes like the proper implementation of issues related with press freedom in the peace agreement. He also expressed his interest in continuing on the training of detectives and prosecutors. Moreover, he recommended to the NPU on the possibility to create special procedures for the protection of journalists in the ex-combatant’s re location areas. One of the Commissioners, Jose de Jesus Orozco, noted the alarming rate of impunity and the need to improve the protection of journalists.

The hearing’s recording can be found below. Click on this link for more information about FLIP.