EL ESPECTADOR, October 17, 2023
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
Did you know that there are regions in Colombia where they tell journalists what to write? This is a report on the crisis in press freedom in specific places in the country just before the regional elections this coming October 29.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation (FLIP) has issued a national alert outlining the principal barriers that journalists have been facing this year in doing their work in the special context of regional elections that will take place this coming October 29. The assessment looks pretty awful, as there are regions in the country where criminals are imposing their “truths” by making threats and favoring the candidates that are their allies.
“In 17 of the 32 departments in Colombia, FLIP has documented cases in which different armed groups are intimidating, hounding, and threatening journalists with the purpose of controlling the information that’s published in the local communications media. At less than a month before the elections, and until September 29, we have registered 69 attacks on journalists,” the Foundation explained.
According to the investigation, the ones who have been hounding the journalists this year are mostly the armed groups like the Clan del Golfo, the ELN, and the FARC dissidents, which include the Second Marquetalia and the Border Commanders. That’s the most important data in the report, and you can see a crisis that has been increasing a few days before municipal and departmental governing bodies are chosen.
The dark outlook for journalism, just ahead of regional elections
Thus far in 2023, the Freedom of the Press Foundation has documented 69 attacks on journalists by different armed groups.
The criminals invade reporters’ physical and digital space, force them to publish information in their interest about the regional elections this coming October 29, and silence any complaints that might be against their interests.
Who are the attackers that have been identified?
30 dissident groups
8 guerrilla groups
29 criminal gangs
2 paramilitary groups
What kind of assaults?
Telephone calls: Using private or unknown numbers, they insult and threaten the journalists.
Text messages: Using social networks, the criminals interfere with the editorial line of the media outlet. They order the subjects that must be covered, what must be removed from the pages, and even dictate the tone to be used in referring to them.
Pamphlets: They leave them at the journalists’ houses or workplaces. They demand that reporting that compromises the armed groups be eliminated. They prohibit circulation of information that compromises their candidates in the coming election.
Direct threats: The members of armed groups even go to their houses, offices, or routes where they intimidate them with weapons and force them to stop publishing reports that affect their interests.
Summonses: Media directors or reporters have been summoned to secret locations to force them to publish their communications or information in their interests.
The regions at extreme risk:
Arauca: With a total of 11 attacks, Arauca is the department with the most assaults on journalists. Four of the attacks are directly related to the way the journalists are covering the elections.
Threats are the principal way that the ELN guerrillas and the FARC dissidents are intimidating the press.
According to the Electoral Observation Mission, 100% of the municipalities are at risk of violence.
Huila: FLIP documented 7 threats in the last year, and one reporter was forcibly displaced.
Coverage of the election by journalists has diminished in the last year.
The groups that are harassing the press are the Border Commanders, the Second Marquetalia, and the FARC dissidents.
Guaviare: Six threats have been reported against journalists in the capital, San Juan de Guaviare.
Some of the intimidations are signed by groups that call themselves “Los Marulanda” or the “Antisubversive Revolutionary Army of Colombia”.
Others are attributed to the Armando Ríos dissidents of the now-defunct FARC. These are the most important points in the report, and you can see that there is a crisis that has worsened just a few days before state and municipal governments are to be selected.