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Latin America

Colombia: "The media are in the hands of politically influential families"

Colombian journalists live dangerously. Despite this, many are committed to transparency and freedom of information. DW Akademie and Germany’s ARD public broadcaster invited experts to discuss Colombia's media situation.

Matthias Kopp (DW Akademie) and Olga Lozano (La Silla Vacía) at the panel discussion Medien International: Colombia in Berlin. (June 2013. Photo: Boris Trenkel).

Medien International Situation der Medien in Kolumbien

Olga Lucía Lozano is an investigative reporter in Colombia. "The media in Colombia are predominantly in the hands of politically influential families," she said to the journalists and political representatives attending the recent discussion at ARD's main studio in Berlin. "And that of course affects the freedom of journalists to report."

On the one hand, said Lozano, independent journalism is directly constrained by media owners protecting their financial and political interests. On the other hand, journalists often practice self-censorship when covering issues such as violence, corruption and drug trafficking.

From left: Matthias Kopp (DW Akademie), Olga Lozano (La Silla Vacía), Moderator Nikolaus Steiner (ARD and others), Hernán Caro (Semana, FAS and others), Nils Naumann (DW, WDR, Deutschlandradio and others) at the panel discussion Medien International: Colombia in Berlin. (June 2013. Photo: Boris Trenkel).

From left: Matthias Kopp, Olga Lozano, Nikolaus Steiner, Hernán Caro, Nils Naumann

At least 90 Colombian journalists have some sort of government protection, according to a recent investigation by The Guardian newspaper. Many of these require bodyguards while researching and conducting interviews.

Dangers on the job

Matthias Kopp, DW Akademie's coordinator for projects in Colombia, said it was also his experience that reporting in Colombia was a perilous profession. However, unlike in many other countries, the dangers did not come from the government. "Many of the journalists taking part in the workshops we held in May received death threats shortly before we arrived," he said, adding that given the fear, it was understandable why many colleagues censored their own content.

Freelance journalist Nils Naumann agreed. He frequently works in Colombia for DW and other media outlets. "Colleagues get caught in the crossfire and not everybody can – or wants to – be a hero," he said. As a foreign correspondent, however, he enjoyed certain protections, he said. To date, no one had prevented him from doing investigative research.

Investigative journalism on the decline

"Unfortunately, there is little demand for research intensive formats like features stories or documentaries" said Hernán D. Caro, correspondent for the weekly Colombian news magazine Semana. "Most people are just interested in short news items," he said in response to a question posed by discussion host, Dr Nikolaus Steiner from the ARD.

Given the situation, said Caro, non-commercial media like the online news site La Silla Vacia (in Spanish: "The Empty Chair") were extremely important. Co-founded by Olga Lucía Lozano, the Colombian initiative is a DW Akademie partner. Caro said the platform's independent approach and frequent investigative reporting made it an alternative news source for many Colombians living in and outside of the country.

The regular discussion series "Media International" is hosted by DW Akademie and the ARD main studio in Berlin. Since the series began in November 2011, discussions have looked at issues of freedom of the press and freedom of information in various countries, including Sudan, Myanmar and Azerbaijan.

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