Journalists Critique Biased War Coverage

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The recent capture of Romeo Langlois, the French journalist by the FARC guerrillas has opened a debate in the Colombian media of the coverage of the war.

Following Mr Langlois’ capture the guerrillas released a statement proposing that his release be conditioned by a “national and international debate” on the role of the media in the conflict. The statement accused journalists in Colombia of not fulfilling the role of informing readers about reality, but rather manipulating reality to fit with the military’s agenda, asking what would happen to a journalist accompanying the guerrillas captured by the Colombian military. According to the guerrillas the Colombian government’s counter-insurgent doctrine obliges everyone, including the press to take sides. Meanwhile journalists point out that merely being with troops does not necessarily affect objectivity, but accept that rules for journalists covering the conflict do not exist. There are no accepted ways of showing their civilian status while being embedded and this complicates the issue of what to do in the case of combat.

The refusal by Colombian media to entertain a debate on the coverage of the war has fuelled several journalists to analyse the media’s role in the war. Writing in El Espectador, Daniel Pacheco wrote “When did journalism in Colombia lose the capacity to move between the barriers set up by the parties to the conflict?”; accusing the media of a decade’s worth of “poor images, poor sounds, and voices of the conflict.” According to Pacheco, a former correspondent from the US told him that Colombian journalists had all sold out, leaving the war to be covered by foreign journalists, such as the British and Chilean journalists that retrieved the video where the FARC admitted holding Mr Langlois. There has been a “tacit acceptance” by the Colombian media that contact with the guerrillas is beyond the pale. In an interview with Netherlands Radio another journalist, Jorge Enrique Botero, repeated that the history of the conflict is poorly told, “this is not a war of good guys against bad guys” although this is how it is portrayed. According to Mr Botero there is no objectivity in how the war is reported, with Colombian media relying almost entirely on Colombian military sources.

Such an attitude is the legacy of the Uribe government according to Mr Pacheco’s colleague, Maria Elvira Samper, who wrote that Uribe stigmatised any journalist that had contacts with the guerrillas as FARC allies. In fact, during the 2010 hostage releases three Colombian journalists were arrested and accused of being FARC propagandists after communicating with guerrillas during the release. With the end of the 1998-2002 peace process, the ascension of Uribe, and George Bush’s “war on terror” the Colombian and international media stopped seeing the war as being an important part of the media agenda. Reporting of the conflict has thus become distorted and simplified, failing to deal with the “complex, deep and prolific” nature of the war.

According to Pacheco, there is a need for Colombian media to change, with media owners and managers accepting this change in order to allow for better reporting on the conflict, which would help pave the road towards peace and reconciliation.

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