Colombian journalist Jorge Enrique Botero denies being a mouthpiece for Colombia’s largest guerrilla group the FARC after releasing material of his stay in a guerrilla camp. This is false, but irrelevant.
With this statement, Botero is making the same mistake that corporate news journalists from organizations like El Tiempo, RCN and Caracol make when they say that they practice objective journalism. All of these journalists are constantly being used to promote the interests of governments, armed groups, or corporations.
In the case of Colombia’s conflict the government’s aim is to beat the FARC as soon as possible, which is not helped when reporters show a conflict that has many faces and is subject to a wide variety of social, criminal and economic interests.
Understandably, Botero is trying to defend his integrity and avoid accusations of being an aide of a terrorist group, but if he thinks he wasn’t used by the guerrillas in a propaganda war he is either lying or incredibly naive.
The FARC is not only subject to very effective military attacks by state forces, but also has a serious PR problem. What do you expect after having been designated a terrorist group for the use of anti-personnel mines, kidnapping civilians for extortion, and forcibly recruiting minors, and their part in the forced displacement, murder and rape of hundreds of thousands of Colombians.
The guerrilla leadership was obviously convinced that they had something to gain by allowing Botero access to the camp that was soon after bombed by the army. It gave them an opportunity to counter the government’s propaganda machine and show themselves as motivated, ideological human beings with a mission. It gave the FARC the opportunity to fight back in the media war in which the government’s perspective dominates.
Dutch guerrilla Tanja Nijmeijer got to show a sign of life to her parents, the now dead “Mono Jojoy” got to speak directly to the camera, without being quoted by deserters or through emails after the thorough interference of Colombia’s authorities, and the FARC were able to show that they are people of flesh and blood and just like other Colombians know how to dance.
Thanks to Botero’s report, the FARC were able to do what militarily they been failing to do so miserably; deal a blow to the government.
Any journalist would have done the same as Botero, just as no journalist has a problem in publishing obvious disinformation coming from the government. When, for example the government says the FARC is down to 7,000 members, this can not be verified. Best would be the call the FARC spokesman to allow the guerrillas to respond to this statement, but, in the absence of a spokesman, a journalist just has to do with what the government says, even though it is likely nothing more than baseless propaganda.
So, even though Botero was being used by the FARC, he delivered material that is extremely valuable. As far as I can remember, there has not been eye-to-eye contact between media and the FARC like this since April 2008, when a reporter from Spanish newspaper ADN spent ten days with guerrillas in the jungle.
And even though I personally would love to see the FARC as an organization wiped off the planet, and Botero’s reports do not help to reach that goal militarily, I respect Botero for his courage and allowing us to show a side of the conflict that is virtually unseen. His report adds to an overall balanced reporting on the conflict and allows us to consider all sides of the story.