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Tuesday, 24 August 2021 09:43

The State and its complicit silence

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The State and its complicit silence Ph: Nathalia Angarita

The authorities' silence in the face of the unusual levels of violence against the press in the coverage of the national strike is surprising. Is it a form of support or denial of the aggressions? By action or omission, what the public entities have done sets a terrible precedent regarding the political will of the State to guarantee the right of citizens to receive information of high public interest. 

In days when the press was under attack, as it hadn't been seen in decades, it was a priority for the institutions called to guarantee freedom and plurality of information to fight for the protection of reporters. However, no state institution or public authority defended the practice of journalism in a clear and unambiguous manner. It was a fundamental first step in the urgency of finding specific measures to guarantee that the vital work done by the press could be done without fear of reprisals or injury. The absence of this defense ended up generating an atmosphere of permissiveness, encouraging censorship and, consequently, denying independent information to the public. The State failed to fulfill its responsibility to protect a right established in the Constitution. 

Control entities made of paper 

On June 8, 2021, the Attorney General's Office notified the journalists of the media LocoSapiens that they would close the investigation opened as a result of the aggressions suffered by three journalists of the team by the security forces in Sibaté, Cundinamarca. This was the justification: "However, the pertinent acts of verification were carried out, establishing that the complainant has not shown any 

interest in the facts denounced, for which reason there is no material evidence that could be useful for the investigation to be successful, thus concluding that it is impossible to have the necessary information". 

A month had passed since the journalists filed the complaint. The Prosecutor's Office had the evidentiary material of the aggression which, in addition, was widely known by the public opinion: in the video it is heard how the reporters shout at the

top of their lungs that they are the press while they take refuge behind some bushes trying to dodge the shots fired by the police. Suspending the investigation of this case ignores all the constitutional mandates of The Prosecutor's Office. The following day FLIP published a statement informing about the situation and hours later, the entity announced that it would reopen the investigation. 

For FLIP, the Prosecutor's Office does not seem to have the intention to look into the origins of these aggressions nor to adopt preventive measures, much less a clear commitment to investigate and punish this violence. The lack of diligence with which investigations are being conducted, particularly in those cases where public agents are responsible, is worrying. 

Late night mayoralties 

Few local authorities have issued responses to the violence against the press. Most of them have been belated, some of them disarticulated with the direct and sustained aggressions of the two months of protests, and others were reactive and with political interest to position a message of alleged guarantee of freedom of the press before the IACHR. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

In the case of Bogota and Medellin, the mayoress and the mayor made statements on June 29 and July 2, respectively. Their messages addressed only very specific cases. In the capital of the country, at the time of Claudia Lopez's communication, 65 aggressions had been registered, and in Medellin 33. The lack of support from the highest authorities in the cities is alarming, it favors the continuity of aggressions and invisibilizes the seriousness of violence against the press. 

On the other hand, FLIP has not received direct communications from the mayors of Popayán and Cali, despite the fact that both cities have been focal points of violence against journalists during the days of the strike. 

Public force as the aggressor, not guarantor 

The acts of police brutality committed during the months of demonstrations prompted a national conversation about the police. Its outcome was the announcement by President Duque that he will push for a reform before the Congress. 

The abuse of force by police officers has had a direct impact on freedom of expression and journalistic practice, and since the demonstrations of 2019, protest spaces and militarized places are an extremely hostile environment for the press: rubber bullets, damage to equipment, injuries and threats are part of the coverage. In total, 216 journalists were assaulted by an agent. 

The shortcomings of the armed forces in terms of training on freedom of expression issues were fully exposed. The high stigmatization that exists in the institution towards the work of the media was also evident. Normally, before or after an aggression, the agents would launch some phrase such as "tabloid press" or some 'sobering' comment about how reporters should do their work. 

The Minister of Defense, Diego Molano, far from assuming a position in accordance with this reality, deepened the stigmatization: in different spaces, closed and public, he attacked freedom of expression and reproached the free flow of

information in social networks. 

The minister was the visible head of the campaign #ColombiaEsMiVerdad which he defended saying: "information like this is digital terrorism and its false", "it is false that the police attack the public peacefullt demonstrating" and "let's unite, lies generate hate". 

Far from supporting the work of the press and the free flow of information, what this proposal did was to point out and put at risk the journalists who cover these scenarios. 

When the Congress advanced the failed motion of censure to Molano, he did not make any acknowledgement, nor did he pronounce himself on the risk of self-censorship generated by this type of messages. The minister reaffirmed in his speech: "Many times it is very easy to tell lies that do not require evidence and move quickly through social media. But it is up to us public officials to assume the truth (...) as a public official we assume that responsibility".

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