In the past days, the international media reported a violent brawl that broke out in the South Korean parliament. Lawmakers
from contending sides clashed over a media bill that would ease
ownership as well as cross-ownership of broadcasting stations, thus potentially allowing monopolies to control the media. Similar reports appeared in Colombia: on July 22nd, for instance, the only two Colombian national newspapers, which have somewhat different editorial lines, El Tiempo and El Espectador, embedded videos showing the event. However, there was limited reporting on the causes of the incident.
Some people would argue that detailed reporting was not necessary since it was the South Korean lawmakers’ uncivilized behavior that was newsworthy. Others would contest that local news outlets wanted to confirm how civilized Colombian lawmakers are by comparison. After all, the most unruly behavior occurring between members of Congress is the public dispute about the incessant tweeting of a Congressman.
However, on December last year there was a more shocking incident in the South Korean parliament that was never reported in Colombia. The opposition used sledgehammers to open their way into a room where a subcommittee was about to agree on the introduction of a bill for parliamentary vote. Incidentally, the episode was related to the ratification of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States. While the Colombian Congress, with a pro-government majority, had long ratified an FTA agreement with the U.S., the episode was apparently too sensitive for the Colombian media to report.
The lack of information about the causes of the most
recent battle in the South Korean parliament is therefore not as innocuous as it
first appears. This was confirmed by the bill approved in the lower house of Congress, on the first week of the current legislative year that commenced on July 20th, related to the regulation and ownership of television stations. The
bill seeks to eliminate the prohibition proclaimed in the law 335 of
1996, which states that no television operator can be acquire
another TV station in the same geographical area. Thus, the two main private TV operators, Caracol and RCN, could become shareholders of companies currently competing to operate a third private channel if the bill is approved in the Senate.
Nevertheless, the manner in which the incident in South Korea was reported is not as intriguing as the difference in behavior of South Korean and Colombian lawmakers in light of similar laws that, arguably, have the same repercussions.
is most remarkable about the brawls in the South Korean parliament is their stark
contrast to the non-violent actions by the general population. Perhaps,
the unruly behavior may be explained by their level of conviction
towards their political ideologies. Such commitment may be strong enough to risk tarnishing their reputations by engaging in brawls. Honor
in East Asian societies is paramount. Regardless of the questionable
actions, no one can claim the lawmakers do not take their duties to
defend their ideologies and constituencies to heart.
In Colombia the reverse is true. Lawmakers are extremely – and questionably – civilized while the general population represents very well the country’s nickname, Locombia, (loco meaning crazy). Such difference has been historic.
In the last two civil wars the ruling class offered the ideological
motives for the population to actively slaughter each other, thus,
benefiting the traditional
elite. After the ‘War of Thousand Days’ (1899-1903), the Conservatives remained in power until 1930. During ‘The Violence’ (1948-1964), the National Front was formed in which Conservatives and Liberals not
only alternated power, but also amalgamated their ideologies.
This history has led lawmakers from the two traditional political parties, Liberal and Conservative, and other small parties that have risen to power thanks to “blood votes” – to represent all interests except those of the marginalized. Many scandals have emerged recently where companies cannot only “persuade” lawmakers and the Executive branch, but also the Judiciary. This has been recently evidenced by a former magistrate and now candidate for Prosecutor General chosen by the government, who has been involved in repeated acts of corruption.
The Colombian traditional media have been an active player in permitting the current level of corruption, especially TV and radio. Colombia’s most influential media outlets are owned by Colombia’s
richest men or large multinationals, which obtain their revenue from
other companies and the government. This explains why truly independent
journalism, which uncovers the realities of the power structure, fails
to attract advertising revenue. This is the case with Hollman Morris and his
TV program ‘Contravia’ that is funded by George Soros’ foundation.
Media, as the fourth power, is extremely difficult to control unlike lawmakers who in theory – although not necessarily in practice – are accountable to their voters. However,
when the four powers (Executive, Legislative, Judiciary and Media)
together with a fifth, such as powerful businesses, all have similar
interests then the balance of power that Montesquieu theorized will never be realized. There is hope that investigative journalism powered by the internet (www.colombiajournal.org, www.lasillavacia.com, www.verdadabierta.com) can make a difference, but the reality is that the large majority of Colombians get their news from the traditional media, be it radio or television.