Instead of informing the public about concerns that military orders put civilians’ lives at risk, Colombia’s leading weekly Semana reportedly informed President Ivan Duque.
According to political website La Silla Vacia, Semana was given the same evidence of the controversial orders to double the army’s results published by the New York Times over the weekend.
But instead of publishing the concerns of top commanders that General Acacio Martinez’ orders put civilians’ lives at risk, the magazine’s editor in chief, Alejandro Santos, informed Duque’s former chief of staff, Frank Pearl, multiple Semana employees told La Silla Vacia.
The editorial decision revives a debate about whether Colombia’s mainstream media’s allegiance lies with the public or with the country’s authorities.
In the case of Semana this is a particularly thorny issue because its editor-in-chief is related to Duque’s ambassador to Washington DC, Francisco Santos.
The family of former President Juan Manuel Santos has dominated Colombia’s politics and liberal media for almost a century, and currently occupies key editorial positions at Semana and leading newspaper El Tiempo.
According to La Silla Vacia, six sources familiar with the scandal have said that the director of the weekly’s investigative unit, Ricardo Calderon, had the story about the military order to double the number of combat kills and captures ready six weeks ago, but the story was never published.
Instead, Calderon and Santos admitted to La Silla Vacia that they invited Pearl to their offices at the end of last month to inform the president’s chief of staff of their findings.
Because the military officials who had denounced the army commander’s controversial orders and suspicions about the resurgence of army killings and cover-ups became nervous, they approached the New York Times’ (NYT) bureau chief Nick Casey in Colombia.
After the New York office of the newspaper fact-checked the story, it decided to publish it both in its newspaper and its website.
The publication spurred Martinez, who is already linked to 23 homicides, to change the military instruction that, according to other military offers, would put civilians’ lives at risk.
But a furious response by far-right allies of Duque, who accused Casey and photographer Federico Rios of being FARC supporters, spurred the US embassy to advise the New York Times team to abandon the country for their safety.
Following the publications of the New York Times and La Silla Vacia, the scandal has now grown and has not just spurred a criminal investigation into the legality of the army’s instructions, but confirmed concerns about the integrity of the country’s leading news magazine.
Semana’s integrity had already been challenged this year after its former news editor, Jose Fernando Hoyos, was accused of setting up a 2009 meeting between the corrupt Brazilian company and the then-deputy Transport Minister of former President Alvaro Uribe, Duque’s political patron.