IFJ Condemns “Dangerous Game of Intolerance” Against the Media in Colombia

The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) for using the media as a scapegoat in a “dangerous game” that threatens the lives of journalists and innocent civilians.

In a press statement released over the weekend by the FARC, the group claimed responsibility for the 20 February bombing of the RCN Radio and Television building in Cali, which injured two people and wrecked 70 per cent of the building housing the studios of the station.

The statement which attacked the RCN as an “echo chamber” for army propaganda and a semi-official government media, mirrored comments made by the Vice-President Francisco Santos in a recent seminar on ‘Victims of Terrorism’ held in Bogotá where he accused the Colombian news media of “creating an echo chamber for terrorist activities”.

The FARC said in its statement that while they “respect the opinions and work of RCN's journalists” they “object to the strategy of its owners against the right to be well-informed.”

“It is absolutely outrageous that our colleagues are thrown into the firing line with such callous disregard for their lives,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “These are futile and cowardly attacks propelled forward by the indiscriminate ignorance of the Colombian authorities”.

In the car bomb attack on the RCN offices, seventy percent of the building was destroyed and Ricardo Luna, a Radio Calidad sound engineer, and Jaime Alberto Martínez, an RCN security guard, were injured in the blast. Three years ago, the RCN headquarters in Cúcuta and Valledupar was attacked and later in the year rockets were fired at the RCN building in Bogotá.

“The reality of the safety crisis for our Colombian colleagues is that they are targets in a dangerous game where all sides are looking for someone to blame,” said White.

Less than two weeks ago, on 19 February, photojournalist Hernando Marné Sánchez Roldán was assassinated in Tulúa, a municipality located about one hour from Cali. Sánchez Roldán, a photographer for "El País" newspaper's society pages, was approached by an individual who shot him twice. At the time, Sánchez Roldán was on his way to take photographs in an exclusive Tulúa neighbourhood.

In efforts to provide concrete support for change, between February 18 and 20, the IFJ Safety Office in Colombia, CESO-FIP along with the Colombian Human Rights organization ASDEH came together with several representatives of regional organizations of journalists from across the nation in order to create a federation of journalists’ associations in Colombia which will be officially launched later this year.

All the organizations involved agreed to unify their efforts to promote the protection and safety of Colombian journalists with the aim of creating quality information and professional media base in the country. They also called on the authorities and society at large in Colombia to create a climate where journalists are not forced to work in conditions of poverty, fear and corruption.

The IFJ is supporting this new association which will be able to provide a solid platform for a more effective and leading role so that the interests of all journalists in the country are properly taken up and defended.

“It’s time for all sides in this long-running armed conflict to recognize that the key to peace and stability is free expression and press freedom as a counter to intolerance and war-mongering,” said White.

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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries