RCN and El Tiempo the past week reported on one document in a
strikingly contradictory way, leaving nothing but confusion about who
is telling the truth, who is lying and why. A classic case of
It all started when RCN reported that Jorge Lagos, a former captain of the intelligence service DAS, had told the Prosecutor General’s Office that employees of Colombia’s Presidency had ordered him to follow a man called Ascensio Reyes and that he had given President Uribe’s closest aides illegally obtained information about members of the Supreme Court.
The news undermined all statements made by the government that it had nothing to do with the illegal wiretapping of government opponents by the DAS as revealed earlier by Semana and supported by findings of W Radio. On the contrary, the news report showed how the Presidency was illegally trying to discredit the court in a time the country’s highest judicial body was operating quite against the interests of Uribe.
The next day, Jorge Lagos, in an interview with W Radio, confirmed the testimonies he had made before the Prosecution and said he needed protection from possible retaliation.
While all media reported about the news and the Supreme Court threatened with the intervention of the United Nations in what it considered yet another attack on their judicial autonomy, the Presidency remained quiet.
After the weekend, on Monday, Colombia’s daily El Tiempo published an article based on exactly the same testimony, but drawing a completely different conclusion.
According to El Tiempo, Lagos and a former colleague testified they did meet with employees of the Presidency but never got any order to spy on Supreme Court judges. According to the newspaper’s interpretation of the documents, the DAS was just investigating the meeting of a suspected criminal with members of the Court.
And it was then the Presidency spoke.
Only hours after El Tiempo had been made available in news stands, the Presidency published a press release confirming the version of El Tiempo and accusing RCN of having published false news, ignoring the fact that Lagos already had confirmed the news and the Prosecutor General had started seeking protection for their witness.
So what is happening here? Why do two important Colombian media interpret one document in two completely different ways? Why did the Presidency not respond to the initial report until it had an opposing ‘independent’ article to counter the first?
Neither RCN nor El Tiempo are known to be critical of the government and have often functioned to simply and unchecked disperse government misinformation.
Until one knows who leaked the testimony from inside the Prosecutor General’s bunker to RCN and who leaked what seems to be the same document days later to El Tiempo (maybe not from the bunker but from the RCN newsroom) it is difficult to say who was trying to defend what interest.
The publication of RCN initially could have served the government to intimidate those testifying or planning to testify before the Prosecutor General, but that the scheme blew up in the face of the Presidency. It could also have been leaked against government interest to incriminate the Uribe administration without the government being able to defend itself.
The publication in El Tiempo however, does very much seem to have been in government interest and, considering the swiftness of the government reaction afterwards and how it completely ignored the confirmation of the RCN news, it is probable that the government was informed of the upcoming publication and maybe even directed it.
What has absolutely worked in the government is that now two seemingly independent media contradict each other, making it hard to decide for the average Colombian to figure out what is real. Disinformation achieved.
Author Wies Ubags is a Dutch freelance journalist in Bogotá, works for media in her country and has her own weblog