Colombia is ranked 126 out of 175 countries world-wide in terms of press freedom, according to NGO Reporters Without Borders‘ 2010 report, released to coincide with World Press Freedom Day.
Forty predators of press freedom from around the world are named by the NGO, including “politicians, government officials, religious leaders, militias and criminal organisations that cannot stand the press, treat it as an enemy and directly attack journalists.”
The report states that even though the FARC has been significantly diminished in recent years, it still poses a serious threat to journalists.
The rebel group try “to control or influence the news media, … have kidnapped 50 journalists since 1997, … make it almost impossible for the media to work in guerrilla-controlled areas… [and] carried out several sabotage campaigns against the transmitters of radio and TV stations considered hostile.”
Threats from the FARC, according to the report, forced Colombian journalist Herbin Hoyos Medina, host of Caracol Radio’s ‘Las Voces del Secuestro,’ in which the relatives of guerrilla hostages are interviewed, to flee to Spain.
Tthe Aguilas Negras, a neo-paramilitary group whose origins trace back to the now demobilized AUC coalition, also pose significant threats to journalists in Colombia, imposing a “reign of terror, killing journalists or forcing them to censor themselves or flee the country.”
The report goes on to explain that the armed group was responsible “for many cases of intimidation and violence against the press in the Caribbean coastal region since late 2006. Death threats received by journalists, in many case after they had been criticised by President Alvaro Uribe’s government, are often signed [by] the Black Eagles.”
The report criticizes President Alvaro Uribe for putting journalists in danger through his reactions to those who disagree with his government.
“President Uribe does not like being criticised and lets the media know it. Journalists who do not find favour with the president are often pilloried by him as ‘accomplices of terrorism’ or ‘in the pay of the FARC’ … regardless of the fact that these public comments put them in danger.”
“Each time Uribe has fired of one of his verbal volleys at them, such respected journalists as Daniel Coronell, the news director of the public TV station Canal Uno, or Carlos Lozano, the editor of the communist weekly Voz, have received death threats from paramilitary groups,” the report explains.
Government security agency DAS’s “phone-tapping of journalists and other prominent government critics” is also cited as a threat to press freedom.