The sacking of two directors of news magazine Cambio, and the decision to turn the influential weekly into a monthly magazine, are widely believed to be the result of the magazine’s criticism of the government.
Luis Fernando Santos, director of Casa Editorial El Tiempo, publisher of Cambio and the country’s largest newspaper El Tiempo, explained Wednesday that the magazine was to undergo reforms because of its lack of financial viability.
Columnists and journalists in most of the country’s media responded sceptically to the news and said that the magazine simply had been too critical of the government and had performing too independently for the comfort of the Santos family, which includes probably presidential candidate Juan Manuel Santos, and Francisco Santos who is vice-President of the Republic.
One of the sacked directors of the magazine, Rodrigo Pardo, talking to newspaper El Espectador, agrees with the critics.
El Espectador: Was the closure of the magazine a sudden decision that you were told about on the spot, or had you been informed before?
Rodrigo Pardo: Over the past year I learned that the board was evaluating the so-called business model and that there were concerns about it. On the other hand, rumors came to me about the discomfort caused by the reporting and analysis we did. Cambio revealed in 2009, among other thing, the links between Guillermo Valencia Cossio and the mafia, the deal between Colombia and the U.S. about the military bases and the agricultural subsidies scandal. I thought these good results would be sufficient for the publisher to decide to proceed with the magazine. I never imagine it being closed and even less me leaving El Tiempo.
EE: Closing a news magazine as important as Cambio is not a decision that is taken overnight. The economic situation was that serious?
RP: No. In 2009 there had been profits and for 2010 sales already exceeded 1.5 billion pesos ($750 thousand). I think this year with the expected economic recovery, the profitability of Cambio could have been improved. Moreover, the evaluation of a news outlet can’t be limited to the economic aspect. There should be other considerations like social responsibility towards democracy, that involve journalism and the strengthening of the public debate.
EE: Either way, the question remains of whether a conglomerate with the financial power of El Tiempo wouldn’t have been able to maintain Cambio, given the value of its brand. Do you think that the closure is connected with the denunciations you carried out?
RP: I have been asking myself up to what point the kind of journalism we practiced at Cambio, ie, investigative journalism, denunciations, independent, thorough, fits in the publishing company like that of El Tiempo, or others that have a dependent relation to the political powers.
EE: So you think the content of the magazine influenced the decision to shut it down?
RP: Yes, the content had an influence. I don’t know to which extent. I think there was both the discomfort about the editorial policy and concerns about the profitability. The latter they told me explicitly. The first I suspect because of questions they had been asking for quite a while. Now they say they will do a monthly magazine, but why could Maria Elvira Samper and I not do that? They obviously did not like our policy.
EE: For having a policy of being critical and opposing?
RP: Because of us being independent. Maria Elvira and I do not believe in deals between journalists and those in power. Calling Cambio to ask a favor, by a politician, or to negotiate an article, was a waste of time. Unfortunately, the proximity between the government and the media has led to policy makers and business leaders feeling entitled to influence the content and to negotiate approaches. That did not work with this magazine. Now, I have been very radical in my criticism about the re-election and emphasizing that democracy ends when someone in power changes the rules of the game in his favor.
This translated interview is half of what appeared in newspaper El Espectador. The full article can be found here.