FECOLPER: another journalist forced to leave Colombia; two months of radio station shut down

Considering the dangerous political atmosphere against journalism due to the repeated statements made by President Álvaro Uribe, journalist Hollman Morris decided to abandon the country today with his family. On another hand, this week marks two months of the shutdown of Fresno Estéreo radio station, after news program director, colleague and trade union leader, Rodrigo Callejas, was threatened by the guerrilla group of the FARC.

Morris, director of the suspended television program, Contra Vía”, recently awarded with Journalism Prize CEMEX-FNPI, received last week a new threat accusing him of being antipatriotic and a guerrilla fighter. During a conversation with the Center of Solidarity of the International Federation of Journalists (Ceso-FIP), Hollman said: “For the past two years I have been the target of threats, persecution, deligitimization and stigmatization of my work thanks to the statements made by President Uribe, illegal interception of my telephone lines and threats were once again received in my mail box, and safety organisms have been unable to determine its origin.”

Hollman thanked the safety provided by the Administrative Department of Safety (DAS), but warned: “The greatest protection for Colombian journalists is an environment of tolerance and respect towards their work. The statements of President Uribe undermining our work– just as he did with Noticias 1 Director and Gonzalo Guillén, Nuevo Herald correspondent and critical journalism, has generated an atmosphere which seeks to point us out as the nation’s enemies and in some cases, treat us as delinquents. For this reason and due to the direct threats received at this moment, I decided to leave the country.”

Meanwhile, Rodrigo Callejas, with his family, must face a difficult financial situation, after being forced to close down the traditional news program he directed: “Debate 5”. The program, on the air from 6:30 to 8:00 a.m. on Fresno Estéreo, was directed from his exile from Fresno, a town located at 201 kilometers south of Bogotá, for two months, after on May 20th, an individual from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who identified himself as Commander Luís Alfonso, warned over the telephone: “You are messing with our people and that’s why you are going to die.”

However, Callejas could not continue elaborating reports without visiting Fresno-where his family currently lives, and the dire income situation obligated him to say farewell to his audience on August 5 th. “To sustain two houses and direct a news program while you’re away from your hometown is very difficult, especially when one has to be the reporter, advertisement vendor and collector,” said Callejas during a visit to the Ceso – FIP office.

But “Debate 5” was the informative and financial soul of Fresno Estéreo. Therefore, a short while after, the owners and directive boards of the Neighborhood Associations of the municipality, made the painful decision of turning off the broadcasting equipment hoping the intolerance from the guerrilla would cease and Rodrigo would be able to, once again, turn on the microphones which have broadcasted his voice, during almost two decades. This is Rodrigo’s greatest dream.

“The cases of Hollman and Rodrigo show the conditions Colombian journalists must face to inform society,” said Eduardo Márquez, President of the Colombian Federation of Journalists, FECOLPER. “When it’s not the guerrilla, then it’s the paramilitaries; if it’s not delinquency; it’s a corrupt in power; if it’s not the drug trafficking mafia, it’s our nation’s President; all of them, almost at the same time, obstructing the citizen’s right to fair and balanced information. All of them, pointing out the press is an enemy, when it is their own intolerance that is the cancer eroding our democracy”.

FECOLPER represents more than 1.000 journalists in 18 departments in Colombia

Center of Solidarity of the International Federation of Journalists, Ceso FIP

The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 115 countries