Colombia’s most renowned newspaper, El Tiempo, has been publishing propaganda without adequately disclosing that the apparent news content was paid for, according to a report.
A recent investigation by the League Against Silence, an investigative journalism initiative to counter self-censorship in Colombian journalism, revealed that El Tiempo’s newsroom is violating basic ethics in regards to editorial independence.
The investigation found was that the newsroom has received hundreds of thousands of dollars for “native advertising,” advertorials usually clearly labeled as “branded content.”
Those advertisers would be set up with editors and massive “specials” are published to pedal whatever propaganda the customer wants. The stories in El Tiempo are hardly attributed to their patron, Bogota‘s city hall, and tell a story favoring the advertiser rather than the audience.
The newspaper has been doing this for years, according to the report.
While news organizations answer to many constituencies, including advertisers and shareholders, the journalists in those organizations must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favor. This commitment to citizens first is the basis of a news organization’s credibility; the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advertisers.
American Press Association
El Tiempo was founded by Liberal Party (LP) elites in Bogota and for years was owned by family of former President Juan Manuel Santos and Colombia’s current ambassador to Washington DC, Francisco Santos.
Today, the newspaper is owned by Colombia’s richest man Luis Carlos Sarmiento and employs family members of the Santos political dynasty and former President Ernesto Samper.
One of its most prominent advertiser has become Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who has been criticized for spending massive amounts on propaganda while imposing austerity measures elsewhere.
The Mayor’s office has used the city’s public utilities company ETB as a media center for “buying and optimizing spaces in mass, alternative and community media,” according to the League Against Silence.
Between December 2015 and July 2018 the mayor’s office reportedly paid ETB roughly $13.8 million ($42 billion pesos), government records show. In 2016 and 2017, much of that was doled out to mass media companies including Caracol Television, El Tiempo, RCN Television, RCN Radio, Caracol Radio and El Espectador.
Caracol Television was the biggest recipient, followed by El Tiempo in second.
Where Bogota’s city hall spent its propaganda money
In June, El Tiempo published a story named “Las Obras de Bogota,” or “The Works of Bogota,” which portrayed the country’s capital as a transforming city without safety or pollution problems.
The story was told through the voice of Peñalosa, and the only acknowledgement of the payments was a line at the end reading: “Concept, design and editorial: Special Content Unit of EL TIEMPO. With the support of the Mayor’s Office of Bogota.”
The story is just one of many, in July the publication ran a similar series titled “La Nueva Bogota,” or “The New Bogota,” made up of ten stories, photos, graphs, and the same tiny line.
It is unclear the exact number of stories El Tiempo has published like this, or whether the newspaper received money from other entities to present propaganda as news.