Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite a reduction in the rate of kidnappings, the media in Colombia remained under siege in 2008. Press freedom is guaranteed by the 1991 constitution, but journalists are often subject to legal harassment. This can include subpoenas to testify in court and violate professional secrecy, and criminal libel and civil liability lawsuits. At least a dozen columnists have been charged, among them Maria Jimena Duzan of the daily El Tiempo and Alfredo Molano of El Espectador. New laws that will partially decriminalize libel have been proposed in Congress. A new criminal procedure code took effect on January 1, 2008, raising hopes that it would curb impunity and judicial inefficiency with respect to crimes against journalists. Some progress was made regarding the investigation and prosecution of such cases. A legislator was arrested for the 1998 murder of journalist Nelson Carvajal Carvajal in southern Colombia, and the trial of a former mayor of Barrancabermeja for the 2003 murder of journalist Jose Emeterio Rivas proceeded. On August 21, the Supreme Court ordered the army to hand over legally requested information on military operations. It reversed a lower court’s ruling on the grounds that vague national security exceptions are insufficient to deny the constitutionally protected right to access public information. Despite such encouraging rulings, members of Congress proposed the creation of a Council of Information, which media observers warned could serve as a censorship tribunal.
Colombia remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. Reporters continue to encounter difficulties associated with the country’s complex armed conflict, which involves left-wing guerrilla organizations, drug traffickers, right-wing paramilitary groups, and government security forces. Corrupt government officials also engage in harassment and violence against media workers. Hostile rhetoric by high-ranking government officials (including President Alvaro Uribe) regarding coverage of the war serves to further stigmatize journalists and put them at risk of violence. Nevertheless, no journalists were killed for political reasons in 2008. According to the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP), threats to journalists and violations of press freedom diminished by 15 and 20 percent, respectively, during the year. In one incident, Rosberg Perilla, a reporter for Enlace TV, was assaulted in December by town council member Nelson Riaño Galvis over coverage that the latter found critical. In another incident, journalist Pedro Antonio Cardenas was attacked by two men in Bogota and told to stop circulating his magazine, in which he recently published an article alleging business ties between the mayor of Honda and a paramilitary group. Also during 2008, local media professionals reportedly practiced self-censorship to avoid threats or legal action from the government and nonstate actors. The Journalist Protection Program of the Ministry of the Interior and Justice (MIJ) claimed to have offered assistance to at least 146 media workers facing such threats. Protection for journalists is mandated by the constitution. The MIJ also backs an alert network providing journalists with communication equipment, temporary relocation fees, body guards, bullet-proof vests, and an emergency hotline for their protection.Most of the country’s media outlets are controlled by groups of private investors. Independent and privately owned print and broadcast media are generally free to express a variety of opinions and cover sensitive issues without restrictions. The government operates one educational and two commercial television stations, along with a national radio network. Despite some advances, the hundreds of community radio stations operating in Colombia sometimes come under pressure from both the government and armed groups. There is a widespread perception that journalists accept bribes in exchange for biased coverage. A proposed statute, seeking “the democratization of the media” through trading in the stock market, was introduced this year. The government used the selective distribution of state advertising as a means to influence the press. Government advertising is an important source of revenue, since local media depend heavily on advertising by provincial and municipal agencies to stay in business. Low salaries add to this financial dependence, which creates a powerful incentive for collusion among media owners, journalists, and officials, affecting editorial views and news coverage. There were few reported cases of government monitoring or censoring of the internet, which was accessed by close to 39 percent of the population in 2008. However, indigenous communities in western Colombia complained that their online media pages were blocked following confrontations with the military.