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Tuesday, 08 March 2022 15:49

Preserving Democracy Begins With Protecting Journalism

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We closed out the year with journalism in Colombia in a weakened state and uncertain as to what the incoming class of public officials will do next amid an ongoing crisis in media and press freedom. With the aim of contributing to the debate, in this edition we present a series of proposals to address nine threats to the future of journalism in Colombia.

By Jonathan Bock, Executive Director of the Foundation for the Liberty of the Press

The year 2021 marked a turning point for journalism in Colombia. Only a few months into the year, it had already become clear that there are no guarantees for those engaged in social protests movements. The Ministry of Defense implemented a new cyber patrol policy to monitor the content of posts on social media networks. Meanwhile, majorities in both the Senate and the House approved a bill to shield public officials from press investigations and increase punishments against journalists. In the end the bill was withdrawn thanks to pressure from civil society groups, but the episode laid bare the true intentions of legislators. 

Once again, we are confronted with the murder of a journalist, that of Marcos Efraín Montalvo, in Tulúa. And all the while, global problems intensified too, like the economic crisis facing the media industry, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

We finish the year with a press that is weakened and burdened by uncertainty over how the next batch of legislators, and the next president, mean to address these challenges. The officials elected this year must form a plan to save journalism in this country. Otherwise, the crisis is sure to deepen, and the situation for the press in Colombia will soon have more in common with Venezuela, Nicaragua or El Salvador. 

With the aim of contributing to the debate on how to address these issues, we have consulted experts, studied international cases and closely followed initiatives promoted by UNESCO, the United Nations, and the offices of the Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression. The result is a series of proposals to address nine problems that threaten journalism.

This roadmap is only a starting point. It should be supplemented with ideas from different sectors and reinforced through wide-ranging discussions that allow us to go deeper into key issue areas, such as the allocation of public resources to support the media. Also, it will be necessary to find the political will to guarantee greater independence in the public media system and to prevent embezzlement in the allocation of public advertising funds. 

This plan, based on the genuinely held beliefs of our leaders, should be coordinated with proposals that have emerged in other countries, all in the spirit of promoting the idea that access to the media and information be considered a fundamental public good.

Of course, we are aware that none of these solutions is without its drawbacks, and for the moment a perfect fix to the crisis does not exist. Nonetheless, these solutions are tailored to address each problem individually, considering its specific features and challenges, and designed, above all, not to further damage democracy.

Take note of this: Since its founding in 1996, FLIP has promoted the defense and protection of journalists to allow them to carry out their work without fear of reprisal. We have never endorsed a political party and we will not do so in the 2022 elections. FLIP's sole cause and objective is to promote journalism through the defense of the principle of freedom of expression. We will seek to advance this agenda with all candidates, and we will continue our oversight of those who occupy Congress as well as those who reach the Presidency. 

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