Colombia Reports will ignore the Colombian government’s unlawful ban on reporting on FARC leaders’ trips to rank and file guerrillas. If we comply, this website could be censored any time deemed convenient by either the government or guerrillas.
Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo told press on Thursday that journalists are prohibited from reporting on FARC leaders’ attempts to explain a pending peace deal to their guerrillas, a significant step in a peace process that — like any process affecting citizens — requires public scrutiny.
During this trip, the FARC went beyond what had been explicitly agreed with the government; Marquez, surrounded by hundreds of heavily armed guerrillas, took part in a public event in El Conejo, a tiny hamlet in the northern province.
Press reports on this incident spurred public outrage and further increased widespread skepticism regarding the virtues of these talks.
And what’s wrong with that? Isn’t the sole purpose of the press to report on things that affect the general public, especially when something goes wrong?
Clearly the media, who do have exceptional power over the public opinion, must be responsible and disallow that biased or inaccurate reporting inappropriately influence the execution of a public policy.
But the Colombian government could easily have tightened the protocol by having the FARC commit to not take part in public events and be prudent when talking to press. This would have entirely prevented future embarrassments that could threaten the success of the talks.
Article 20 of the Colombian constitution
Every individual is guaranteed the freedom to express and diffuse his/her thoughts and opinions, to transmit and receive information that is true and impartial, and to establish mass communications media. The mass media are free and have a social responsibility. The right of rectification under equitable conditions is guaranteed. There will be no censorship.
However, by banning journalists to report or ask questions, the government does not only violate the Colombian constitution and our fundamental right to the freedom of expression and movement, it also disallows the public to scrutinize and criticize the peace process, or possible wrongdoings in the process that will define Colombians’ future.
More seriously, the ban sets the worst precedent at the worst time. A press release by an individual administration is a press release, not a constitutional amendment, it has no legal value even though the government pretends it does.
In a written response to Colombia’s press freedom foundation FLIP, the minister said that the only party that should comply to the ban is the FARC, not the press.
So, why did the government tell us that “there may be no transmission or editing of audiovisual material for transmission, nor the presence of regional, national and international media” of the FARC trips?
Since our only sources in the event of something newsworthy are civilians, what would happen to them is the FARC is made responsible of what we decide to publish?
I must remind you, dear reader, that the government is currently in the process of pushing a bill through congress that will give the president exceptional powers in the months following the eventual signing of peace with the FARC.
If this unnecessary press ban is an example of how President Juan Manuel Santos plans to use these powers, we journalists will not be able to do our duty and you will not be able to find out what really is happening in Colombia.
If we don’t openly disobey this order or if the government plans to actively prevent us from reporting, journalists can no longer guarantee our reporting is not scripted by a state that is facing more than 24,000 formal charges of war-related crimes or by guerrillas who possibly are facing even more criminal charges.
If the Colombian government wants Colombia Reports to shut up they’ll have to make us, which would imply changing or suspending the constitution.
What disappoints me personally is that the tightened protocols — including the grave violation of Colombians’ and journalists’ fundamental rights — was bartered by host nations Norway and Cuba, who I would like to ask: WTF do you think you are doing?
It’s common knowledge that the Cuban government, like all dictatorships, opposes the freedom of press, but Norway? I thought Norway was a democracy, an example of good governance and a defender of universal fundamental rights.
Norway and Cuba should remember that their role as guarantors of the peace process should mean that they are loyal to universal rights, not to the political interests of the parties engaged in the talks.
I, the editor-in-chief of this website, have informed both the government and the FARC delegation that Colombia Reports will ignore the ban and will continue doing what it has been doing for the three and a half very long years of negotiations; basic reporting.
I have done so because if Colombia Reports, or any journalist or citizen, is prohibited to exercise our universal rights, we can not guarantee that our future reporting on the peace process complies with the most common and basic journalism standards.
Any journalist or news organization that does not challenge the government ban effectively surrenders its independence and its loyalty to citizens, especially those who want to participate in reporting.
If you also want to defend your right to free press and independent reporting on the pending peace process, please feel free to contact the delegations and express your concerns.
You can email the government delegation here: [email protected] and the FARC delegation here: [email protected] The Norwegian embassy can be emailed here: firstname.lastname@example.org and the Cuban embassy here: [email protected]
In response to my protest, the President’s Office let me know that “we reiterate what was said yesterday. the restriction is not for the media, but for the FARC.”