2008 saw the birth of several Colombian media aimed at an
English-speaking audience. They all have their own approach and way of
reporting what happens in Colombia. They all show quite a different Colombia and none seem like what’s been done by the local or international media.
Colombia Reports interviewed Brian Andrews, anchor of RCN’s news in English,
Bertha Villa who writes for El Colombiano from the United
States and U.S. academic and radio host Mario Murillo who reports on indigenous issues in Cauca.
Brian Andrews: RCN’s News in English
North American Brian Andrews has been doing television for a long time. He worked for CNN when they became big in the first Gulf War and worked for several well know television networks in the U.S. before moving to Bogotá. He now runs and anchors RCN’s news in English, a newscast broadcast two times a day and is probably the best known gringo in Colombia.
He started the newscast because he wasn’t seeing the Colombia he knew from vacation in the reports coming from AP, Reuters and other news wires and wanted that to change. Andrews’ Colombia is not the bad place as portrayed in some the media. “The violence takes place in the countryside, but most people live in the city where there is no war and life is just like anywhere else,” he says.
“Colombia has an image problem and they can fix it if the world can understand the country’s news in English, because it’s only offered in Spanish”.
The result of Andrew’s work is a relatively lighthearted newscast about the daily news in Colombia and the small and funny stories the press agencies ignore.
Still RCN’s News in English receives criticism. Not so much about ignoring issues, but about highlighting issues. Most of this criticism comes from Colombians living abroad. “Colombians are very protective of their image abroad and do not like the negative things being highlighted,”he explains.
Andrews himself is relatively satisfied about the content he can bring and does not feel any political pressure to run or not run certain stories. His main limit is the lack of resources and a chronic lack of staff. “If I want to do what I really want to be doing I need at least another five people. Right now there’s three staffers and one intern doing crazy hours.”
His biggest frustration is and has been the time needed for things to
get done in Colombia, even at RCN. “It took us three weeks to get a
single phone line and even longer to get a functioning internet
connection,” he says.
Most of Andrews’ audience is in the U.S. and Europe. “Half of our visitors are from the U.S., 30 percent from Europe and the Middle East. The rest are from Colombia… and the cool thing is that many of these Colombians don’t particularly watch us for news. They watch our webcasts to learn to speak English,” he says.
Bertha Villa: El Colombiano’s Global Newsroom
Another journalist bringing Colombian news is Bertha Villa. She’s a Colombian living in the U.S. and was hired by newspaper El Colombiano to deliver the paper’s content to an English-speaking audience. She’s a long time journalist, grew up bilingual and daily publishes a number of articles on her weblog.
Villa’s initial motive to do the job was the ignorance of foreigners on Colombian issues and culture. “I live in Ohio and people will actually be surprised when I say I am Colombian and want to know why I’m white,” she explains. “I want to show the beauty of my country just as I want to report on the problems we have like with parapolitics. Reporting the negative things can get us international help when we need it,” she says.
Villa’s weblog brings a variety of articles ranging from international stories to stories from Medellín where El Colombiano is based.
She works alone from Ohio, which is her main limitation. “I want things to be bigger. I want this to be my full time job. On the research part I have little to complain, I can use any article written by El Colombiano’s journalists and publish it. If I want to do research myself, I do it, but it’s still just me that has to get things out,” she says.
Her current job, publishing on a weblog, has humbled her as a journalist. “The reactions you get can be pretty direct. People tend to accuse more than they ask to clarify, but I like the communication with the audience and I like a discussion,” she says.
Villa, who’s lived in the U.S. for the past ten years, mostly likes how her work for El Colombiano connects her with what happens in Colombia. “It’s still MY country.”
Mario Murillo: Mama Radio
Mario Murillo is a U.S. scholar and radio host, currently living and working in Cauca where he is writing a book about the ACIN, a local indigenous organization. His weblog about indigenous matters has become a source of information from a more indigenous point of view at a time that their conflict with the Uribe administration escalated and distorted news about the conflict made the issue more confusing by the day.
Murillo’s weblog initially started just to keep in touch with the people back home, but has turned into more of a notebook helping him to write his book. “I have also been translating a lot of the documents that the indigenous
movement has been putting out over the last few months during their
protests. This helps me synthesize their actions and their media
communications, while at the same time get the word out of what it is
they’re demanding. It’s serving several functions in this respect.” he says.
Murillo, not necessarily by choice, has moved away from the “traditional” reporting and is specifically showing one side of a complex story. “I have moved much more in this direction over the years, combining this
commentary/reporting with participatory action research that I do
Murillo considers his more subjective, almost activist point of reporting not particularly limiting.”I guess the limitation is that there are no
limitations, because in a sense I am wearing a few different hats in
approaching the subject matter: journalist, blogger, activist, media
“Whether or not it is playing a role in informing people about what is
happening, it’s hard to tell, although it’s interesting some of the
responses I have been getting from many different places around the
world. Some people seem to really appreciate the work,” he adds.
Murillo would like to see a lot improved in the news brought by corporate media concerning indigenous matters. “First of all,
in the US, the media have to recognize that Colombia exists. It is
hardly ever in the news at all, despite the nature of the crises
unfolding here, much of it tied to US interests and policy. From there,
the Colombian media coverage totally lacks nuance and depth. So much of
the coverage I’ve been monitoring in the Colombian media of the popular
protests, for example, lack any historical context. It leaves the media
consumer totally misinformed,” he says.