Reporters Without Borders today issued a report on the perils for journalists in Cúcuta, a border city in north-eastern Colombia. The report is the result of a fact-finding visit to the city conducted jointly with other organizations (including a Reporters Without Borders partner) on 9-10 February. Its publication coincides with the anniversary of the assassination of politician Jorge Eliécer Gaitán on 9 April 1948, seen as the start of Colombia’s endemic political violence.
This year began tragically for the Colombian press with the murder of Julio Palacios Sánchez of Radio Lema on 11 January in Cúcuta. Located at the heart of a region on which different armed groups - guerrillas, paramilitaries and drug traffickers - have all converged, the city saw eight of the 38 cases of serious threats against the press registered in Colombia by Reporters Without Borders in 2004. Several journalists had to stop working and leave the region. Others who have decided to stay censor themselves for their protection.
This is the situation that prompted the joint fact-finding visit by Reporters Without Borders (of France and Sweden), the Fundación para la Libertad de Prensa (a Colombian organization partnered with Reporters Without Borders), the Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (of Peru) and International Media Support (of Denmark). The team’s members questioned some 20 representatives of local and national media, as well as various local government, judicial and military officials.
The visit not only highlighted the permanent pressure which the press must endure in this explosive microcosm of Colombia’s conflicts, it also revealed a still tenacious climate of impunity and a shocking lack of responsibility on the part of the authorities as regards the plight of the city’s journalists. The deputy mayor, for example, told the visiting team he had never heard of any attacks against the press. The police chief told the team that Julio Palacios Sánchez’s murder was a "black speck on an otherwise white handkerchief."
This irresponsibility is another danger for the Colombia news media and a real threat to press freedom in Colombia.