After decades of intentionally dis-informing the Colombian public, television network RCN finally received an international scolding by Reporters without Borders (RWB) for “manipulating information” and its “lack of objectivity and professionalism.” About time if you ask me.
The international journalist organization condemned RCN’s show “La Noche” for its “distortion” of the truth regarding the RWB’s stance on the recent hostage-taking of French journalist Romeo Langlois by the FARC.
Following Langlois’ release, RWB noted the FARC was upholding its promise to end its practice of kidnapping for ransom by saying, “By keeping the promise made on 6 May to free Langlois, the FARC will be respecting a solemn pledge given on 26 February to stop holding civilians hostage.”
The “La Noche” hosts responded by accusing the organization of “being accomplices to Langlois’ abduction” and being FARC supporters, which RWB claimed put journalists at risk.
According to RWB, La Noche’s critics were using “propaganda” that “showed no concern for balance” while claiming that the delicacy of Langlois’ release required a less confrontational approach than the one suggested by the program. Langlois, a reporter for news network France 24, spent a month in FARC captivity after the military unit he was embedded with came under guerrilla fire April 28.
RWB’s exposing of RCN’s manipulation of facts is probably new to those not familiar with Colombia’s media climate, but is really nothing new.
For years, RCN — both its radio stations and television station — have done nothing but spread lies and falsehoods, while hiding important facts from the general public. Its “news” broadcasts have relentlessly ignored all journalistic principles and values.
Furthermore, in defense of its own interests, the media conglomerate has taken sides in reporting on Colombia — particularly regarding the armed conflict and criminal penetration of state institutions and Congress. It has abandoned all neutrality in its reporting, something that is crucial for citizens trying to understand what is going on in their own country and form a well-informed opinion.
The absolute lack of neutrality of Colombia’s most-viewed television network has resulted in a major discrepancy between what Colombians know about what’s going on in their country and what in fact is going on.
Media bias is obviously not exclusive to Colombia. In the U.S. everyone is aware of the political sides taken, particularly by MSNBC and FOX News. This is no problem because the two networks balance out each other and the American people have a variety of alternative information sources to verify claims made by the networks. Additionally, there are important watch dogs critically monitoring the bias of both the conservative and liberal media.
In Colombia this is not the case. Colombia only has two national television networks, while the regional or local television networks are state-controlled. With the country’s relatively low internet coverage, the influence of the television networks on general opinion is overwhelming, while private media watchdogs do not exist.
The situation has gotten so bad that anyone using foreign news sources is better informed on current events in Colombia than someone who depends on RCN — or its competitor Caracol, but to a lesser extent — for information.
This information monopoly has proven disastrous mostly because RCN journalists are not allowed or willing to follow any of the basic principles of journalism as published in the column on the right.
Furthermore, RCN — particularly senior pseudo-journalists like Claudia Gurisatti and Francisco Santos — have slandered Colombians and foreigners who do not have the means to defend themselves against the mass-media offensive, leaving falsely accused victims of RCN attacks stigmatized, and, in some cases, threatened.
Those who do attempt to report neutrally, often end up falsely considered biased (oh irony), activists or — more dangerously — FARC apologists or supporters, which is exactly what happened with RWB.
The international journalists’ organization hit back, making the Colombian television network look like the deceitful idiots they are, at least internationally. Within Colombia this obviously had little impact since RCN never retracted their lies and other media conveniently failed to report on RWB’s side of the story.
For now we have to accept there are no means to counter RCN’s ongoing assault on journalism since state-imposed regulation is far from desirable, a third television channel is far off, and three media powerhouses — RCN, Caracol and El Tiempo, carefully shield-off the advertisement budgets of the business conglomerates owned by the proprietors of these media.
The good news is that in Colombia the media conglomerates’ monopoly on information is starting to decline due to an increasing amount of people with internet access, enabling them to access information through alternative sources and social media, and verify the claims Colombia’s mainstream media fail to.