Colombia’s leading newspaper, El Tiempo, sacked 150 journalists in the latest mass lay-off in print media that reportedly has cost almost 600 journalists their jobs over the past year.
The newspaper, which is owned by Colombia’s richest man Luis Carlos Sarmiento, will continue its normal production, but without some of its most senior journalists and with a considerably younger and cheaper newsroom.
The mass lay off at El Tiempo is the second in half a year; in February between 120 and 140 journalists were reportedly fired.
A series of lay-offs
El Tiempo isn’t the only one who has been forced to reduce its newsrooms. According to the League against Silence, an investigative journalism collective sponsored by the press freedom foundation, some 320 journalists were fired from print media between December last year and March.
Conservative cable television network NTN24 sacked 90 journalists between August and October last year after Jose Roberto Arango, a known corporate “cost-cutter,” was put in charge by the Ardila Lulle Group that also owns one of Colombia’s main commercial TV networks, RCN.
Media lay-offs since August last year
- NTN24 (90 sacked journalists)
- Televisa Colombia (more than 100 sacked journalists)
- El Tiempo (between 270 and 290 journalists)
- Vice Colombia (13 sacked journalists)
- Semana Rural (seven sacked journalists)
Silence, demotivation and fear
According to The League, the mass lay-offs have created a culture of “silence, demotivation and fear” in the newsrooms after many colleagues were fired using questionable methods..
In an investigative piece published in April, The League reported that the contract of many of the journalists was terminated “by mutual agreement” that, according to some of the collective’s sources weren’t mutual at all.
Journalists who refused to agree with the termination of their contract or whose labor rights had been violated for years, were insinuating that non-cooperation could have consequences when applying for new jobs.
Signing “mutual agreement” blind
One journalist who had been working at Semana as a staffer for four years but with a freelance contract, told The League anonymously she wasn’t allowed to see the agreement unless she agreed to sign it.
They called me from human resources and told me that my job would end, and they needed me to sign the agreement before the Ministry of Labor or a court. I asked to see the document and they said no, that I would only see it when I went to sign.
Sacked Semana journalist
When the journalist refused to sign the agreement without being able to read it first, she said she was told that signing the agreement would allow Semana or other news media to hire her again in the future.
The journalist considered this a “veiled threat” and, together with two other journalists, decided to challenge the decision.
“One day before going to court, they called the other two to tell them that they wanted to recognize their work, and were going to pay them an extra month’s salary, but that they had to sign the document to receive it,” the journalist said.
A month later she was called again by Semana to work on a special as freelancer, but this offer was later retracted at the order of management.
The journalist won the court case, but decided to stop working in journalism having lost all passion for the job.
Semana told The League that its “mutual agreements” with journalists who are sacked are “standard,” consist no violation of anything and are “in line with the norms.”
Many of the journalists who lost their contracts at Semana continued working there, but as freelancers and facing an increased workload.. “But nobody says anything because nobody wants to lose their job.”