When we’re gone, who will cover the news?
On Monday, November 5th, during the Standing Up for Journalism campaign, more than 600,000 journalists and media workers affiliated to the IFJ in 116 countries, alerted society about our profession’s degradation, as a result of criminal actions of powerful groups, excessive commercialization of media organisations, political pressures and our dire work conditions.
On this day, led by the National Union of Journalists of the UK and Ireland, we reminded citizens from every social status, of the crucial role we have as a guarantee to their right to accurate information. In addition, we highlighted most of the decisions made by citizens causing a collective impact, are based on what we inform on local, national or international level.
The Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER), recently affiliated to the IFJ, supported this campaign, with more than 1000 Colombian journalists in 18 departments of our country.
“Survival” is the word currently guiding our work
The senseless deterioration of our war, on one hand, and the dire work conditions imposed upon media organisations, turned journalism into a chimera, in which truth and professional commitment to the community must be given up by reporters when it comes to survival.
Journalists have to carry out their work under the pressure of violent and intolerant actors from every side, in the midst of a total and pleasing impunity: of almost 130 cases of journalists murdered in the last 18 years, only 7 cases have been solved and no intellectual author has ever been captured.
Paramilitaries, guerilla fighters, drug traffickers, corrupt politicians and even members of state security organisms have targeted us to silence denounces or investigations. All this occurs while media organisations are deaf to developing a safety culture in our news desks.
Some intolerant civilians have intimidated us too. Public attacks by politicians upset at our revelations or angry followers wanting to prevent us from reporting their excesses are very frequent.
Our work conditions: the main obstacle for press freedom
A survey conducted by the Center of Solidarity of the International Federation of Journalists of 350 journalists, in 15 regions of the country, delivered disturbing results: 51% of Colombian reporters earn about 100 – 400 USD monthly. This income is slightly below and above the minimum legal wage, which leaves us on the same position of a non-qualified worker. Only 1% has an income higher than 750 USD monthly.
However, most Colombians are unaware of these low wages, which are generally possible thanks to the sale of advertising spaces, a practice we resort to as we do not earn salaries or honoraries.
This role as advertising vendors makes editorial independence difficult and to make matters worse, advertising is usually assigned in a discretional manner, with some signs of arbitrariness negatively impacting critical media organisations or journalists. This is how State money, which belongs to Colombians, becomes an element of blackmail used to silence us.
On one side, the so called privileged correspondents covering national or regional news are generally paid per article published or story broadcasted, but must be available 24 hours a day. If the information submitted is not considered to be of public interest, the journalist, cameraman or photographer does not get paid.
To further reduce costs, several television stations established a perverse wage system called ‘combo’: for the story broadcasted, the journalist is paid what was agreed, if the story is broadcasted a second time, the journalist is paid half of what was agreed and if it is broadcasted again during a third emission, it is free! It is very common to find transportation, camera rental, telephone, cellphone and the food consumed and used on the job, paid by the correspondent.
Every time there are more media organisations without contract workers hiring colleagues through job agencies, associated work cooperatives and associated work companies. Colleagues with a work contract are offered salaries which do not cover basic necessities.
Most reporters do not have health care service, do not own a home and cannot even consider making contributions to a pension plan. Most journalists do not have life insurance - as our law orders, or professional risk insurance. And forget the possibility of trainings or recreation.
We are the central pillar of democracy. Without us, society would be trapped in rumors and the source manipulation of the powerful. Therefore, journalism matters not just to journalists, but to everyone.
Last November 5th, we called upon citizen solidarity and asked: when we’re gone, who will cover the news?
Colombian Federation of Journalists - FECOLPER
FECOLPER represents more than 1000 journalists in 18 departments of Colombia