Analysis: Media and the War in Colombia

News from Colombia | on: Thursday, 28 June 2012

Following the Langlois case: Media and Conflict in Colombia


José Antonio Gutiérrez Danton / Sunday June 24, 2012

(Translation of an article that appeared in Prensa Rural)


In late April, during a confrontation in Caquetá between army units and Front 15 of the FARC-EP, the French journalist Roméo Langlois was captured while accompanying the army in his professional capacity. His capture and subsequent detention put on the agenda right before the eyes of the international community, the hidden conflict that exists in Colombia. The insurgents, after their initial suspicions cleared (they thought at first that Langlois could be one of the Israeli or American agents who accompany and advise the Colombian army [1]), released a statement saying: "Romeo Langlois wore a military uniform of the regular army in the middle of a battle. We believe that the least we can expect to recover his full freedom is for the opening of a broad national and international debate about freedom of information [in Colombia]. "[2]


The Colombian media response to the insurgency's proposal was typical: The El Espectador newspaper called it a "crazy precondition," insisting that they would not discuss anything by force [3]. In turn, El Tiempo called it an "unacceptable demand" to be strongly rejected and that the FARC-EP could not give lessons to anyone about journalistic principles [4]. These responses are only the media version of the institutional position regarding the insurgency: there is nothing to negotiate but their demobilization. The doors to any form of dialogue are closed because one does not argue, never mind ‘speak’ with "terrorists" [5].


In an insightful column, Carlos Cortes Castillo, described the media response as follows:

"The FARC condition the release of Romeo Langlois upon holding a" broad national and international debate about freedom of information” and, as expected, we are all indignant: journalists, organizations for press freedom and we, the citizenry. Everyone competes for the harshest words against the guerrillas and then after saying them everyone feels better (...) Today the media covers the guerrilla with journalism of outrage (...) the guerrillas are killers, kidnappers, thieves. The response of the media owners is similar: the FARC will not come to tell us how to do journalism. That’s all we needed. The microphones are turned off and that is all the information we have.


Someone said recently at a forum that the legacy left us by the government of Alvaro Uribe was mainly mental. I agree. Now we see reality as if on a black and white TV. With regard to the guerrillas we have learned to repeat the script, to self-censure ourselves, to repeat the official line of the war on terrorists to the point where we watch over ourselves-the privatization of censorship that Coetzee talks about -and we suspect those who go off track. " [6]


Langlois was eventually released on May 30, and in spite of the blockade that the media tried to impose on the debate about its role in the conflict, the debate has begun. Although Langlois himself may have deemed the proposal "blatant" and "provocative" [7], the fact is that unfortunately, the debate now taking place about the role of the media, could hardly have happened but for his capture and detention. And it was Langlois himself, who with statements about the conflict that left the official script reproduced consistently by the Colombian media, has been the cause of the tentative debate that has begun.


Lack of freedom of information and informal censorship


A closer look at the situation of journalism in Colombia shows that such a debate is not "unreasonable" or "unacceptable". Colombia, for better or for worse, is a country in which, in the period 1979-2009, more than 130 journalists have been killed (98 of them killed in the period 1992-2006). According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2011 report it occupies place 143 out of 179 countries in terms of freedom of information [8]. In the 2009 report of this organization, Colombia was ranked 126 in this ranking out of 175 countries analyzed, which means that, far from improving, there has been a sharp deterioration [9].


It is not that too many journalists are killed. The official and paramilitary terror and systematic campaign of attacks, threats and stigmatization against independent journalists during the last three decades have achieved their goal: to silence journalism. According to Hollman Morris, one of the few journalists working in the war zones of the conflict and to critically challenge the official discourse, and himself a victim of a brutal persecution for his investigative work, says "The Colombian government says proudly that under this administration the number of journalists killed has declined, which is true, but not because there is more democracy in Colombia, or thinking we are more tolerant of dissent, or criticism, this is simply because journalists censor themselves (...) Colombian journalists are no longer touring the areas of conflict, as the government has repeatedly pointed out to reporters that to cover these areas is to be "linked to terrorism“. (...) Censorship is not usually blatant, not something that is public, it is not closing the stations, the media, but it is the stigma, the threat that comes to your email, your home, your employees or the public stigmatization by the mouth of the president himself against you, your work, and also the stigma of government in regard to certain subjects. "[10]


This "self-censorship" is nothing but an informal form of censorship through terror and threats instead of by decree, it is described clearly by an anonymous journalist who said in 2001, that "When I write something, I wonder how Castano will react [Castano is a now dead narco-paramilitary leader] "[11]. Since that time, particularly since the end of the failed Caguan peace process and the beginning of the regime of "democratic security" under Alvaro Uribe Velez, journalists have been forced to shut up or have meekly repeated the official line, having been coerced by official and ‘paraofficial’ media and by the strength of the labour market which is controlled by a few economic groups linked to the power elite.


President Uribe himself, who during his tenure was known for issuing multiple threats and utterly reckless accusations against opponents, critics and journalists trying to do their job, imposed clear limits on the exercise of journalism in a speech at Tres Esquinas, on January 31 2003: "Journalists will have to help the Colombian people by limiting themselves, avoiding recklessness, realizing that the most important thing is the Colombian people's right to recover their security, over the pursuit of journalistic exclusives" [12]. Investigative journalism then became the search for “exclusives” and "serious" journalism had to be subordinated to the governments military strategy (ie, "security"). This point was also articulated by the then conservative senator Juan Gomez (and former editor of the El Colombiano newspaper), who said in 2004 that: "An important point is to know what to do if you receive warnings of attacks or guerrilla attacks, [one should]not just pursue the story, the exclusive, and thus inadvertently attack democracy. Know that prudence is in some cases more important than truth. "[13]


General Mario Montoya went a little further to clearly state how the media should serve as propaganda for the military and police forces of the State: "We also need wider recognition of our work, because in many cases the violence is magnified over intelligence activities and the operations of the Army, Police, the Attorney-General’s Office, the CTI, DAS and the Procurator’s Office. It hurts that what we do with such effort is unknown and that is given another connotation in the search for a story. It hurts that something that is minimal is magnified and that the real work we're doing is not known about. That hurts our relationships. "[14]. The partnerships between the Army and the paramilitaries that claimed 175,000 recognised victims over two decades are, according to Montoya, something minimal. So too should be the more than 3,000 boys extrajudicially executed in the so-called "false positives" [15]. As should the brutal persecution of the opposition, of human rights organizations and of journalists regarded as too "intrusive" (as quoted by Morris) by the DAS, these should also be considered minor issues and not monstrous crimes [16].


Perhaps nowhere is it more easy to see this straitjacket with which journalism operates in Colombia than in the absence of political humor. Political humor requires critical vision, acuity, rebelliousness and irreverence. All qualities that are lacking in the Colombian media, where (except in very honorable exceptions) sycophancy, servility and the worship of the authorities reign. Morris tells us that "I believe that the murder of Jaime Garzón was a message to critical journalism in Colombia. Let us not tangle with certain powers of Colombian society, for me that was the message. From the murder of Jaime Garzón onwards political criticism disappears from television, political humor disappears from television, and even today, ten years after his assassination no political humour exists on Colombian television. "[17] There is no comparison between the genius of a character like Heriberto de la Calle, played by Jaime Garzon, the shoeshine interviewing and gibing politicians, and the incredible genuflections to power by a certain William Calderon in" La Barberia "such sycophancy, such servility, such cult of personality (characteristic of a dictatorship) as that seen in their shameful" interview " with Uribe Vélez (2010), a demonstration of his abysmal lack of talent, creativity and genius, are evidence of the "authoritarian spell" in the media that repeats the "official" script to the letter [18].


The State vs investigative journalism


In the case of threats and attacks against journalists in Colombia, the state's role went beyond televised threats or the existence of some eventual assassin hired by a "corrupt state official." In Colombia, a deliberate strategy by the State was set in motion, through the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), which reported directly to the Executive, to silence journalists, misinform the masses, manipulate information, to discredit its critics. This strategy, known as the DASpolítica scandal, was called a "plan to destroy the country" by journalist Juan Gossain in a famous editorial for RCN Radio [19]. Hollman Morris clarifies this position a bit "This was not a plot against the country: the party of the U, for example, was not touched. Apuleius Plinio Mendoza suffered no persecution, nor Yamhure Ernesto, and the directors of the major media were not victims (...) Everyone who expressed an opinion contrary to this rule was the subject of a criminal prosecution, those are thousands if not millions people. This is a practice inherent of the worst dictatorships in the world. "[20] This strategy could not have been implemented without the active participation of journalists and presenters, many of them encrusted in star prime time programs -" there are journalists who received payments from DAS and collaborated in smear campaigns against its victims "[21].


Hollman Morris was directly accused on several occasions by President Uribe of being a helper of the "guerrilla" for his work as a journalist, and also by the current president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, who was then defence minister, who accused Morris of making apology of the crime [of terrorism] by covering the conflict and committing the "heresy" of interviewing guerrillas in 2009 [22]. The irony is that the government of Santos put the outcry when insurgents detained Langlois in the midst of combat, when the state has persecuted and criminalized other journalists was too much to be ignored for a columnist as sharp as Alfredo Molano, "Now, when so much water has passed under the bridge, it is right we should recall that on February 2, 2009, in the same Union Peneya Township where the battle where Langlois was lost took place the Heroes of Guapi battalion detained the journalists Hollman Morris, Leonardo Acevedo and Camilo Raigozo, and accused them of being apologists for and propagandists of the FARC for covering the delivery of hostages to Piedad Cordoba and Daniel Samper Pizano. "[23]. Hollman Morris had a personal file in the office of DAS and persecution against him was named "Operation Puerto Asis" by the "political police"[24].


But Morris was not the only journalist targeted by the State [25]. According to columnist Ramiro Bejarano, "many journalists have tried to ply their trade by tracing the conflict in many ways and in return received stigmatization and threats of all kinds, even by high dignitaries of State. "[26] There is a list of at least 15 journalists during the last years of the last decade who were subjected to a thorough espionage by the DAS [27]. Another emblematic case was that of Daniel Coronell a journalist on Noticias Uno and columnist in Semana, who had to leave the country in 2005 when he began receiving a series of threats for his research on the corruption of the Uribe regime and his family ties to drug trafficking and organized crime: these threats consisted of threatening phone calls, threatening emails, funeral wreaths with his name, with that of his wife and daughter daughter, and letters in which it was described how his little daughter would be returned to him cut into small pieces[28].


That these practices were systematic and regulated by the DAS is shown by the "manual of threats" which came to light during investigations into that organism. It gives very precise instructions on how to threaten the journalist Claudia Julieta Duque. It is ordered:
"- Make the call in proximity to the premises of Police Intelligence.
- No stuttering, no call to last more than 49 seconds.
- Call preferably from an ETB phone using a card, in case she should immediately call back.
- Verify that there are no perimeter security cameras. Or transit cameras.
- Whoever makes the call should be alone and should take a bus to the site.
- Take extra precautions since Claudia Julieta will immediately notify the call to Colonel Novoa National Police (Which has on other occasions affected us institutionally) "[29].


And then, in this official document, there is a tutorial on how to make a standard threatening phone call:
"Greeting: Good morning (afternoon). Please may I speak with Dr. Duque?


Message: Madam, you are the mother of Maria Alejandra (wait for an answer) Well I tell you left us no other choice, you were told in every way and you chose to ignore us, now now neither armoured jeeps nor dumbass letters will serve you . Now we have to mess with what you love the most, thats what happens to you bitch for getting into things that don’t concern you, you old whore’s daughter gonorrhea .... "[30].


Duke got the call in November 2004, which followed the instructions. "Duke's assailant, in addition to the provisions of the script, said they were going to rape and murder her 10 year-old daughter. In one of the diversions [from the script] he said, 'Your daughter is going to suffer, we are going to burn her alive, we will spread her fingers around the house'. In this situation, the journalist had no choice but to leave the country. "[31]


These threats and attacks, sometimes by para-state means, sometimes by state media, are those that have practically cornered and annihilated investigative journalism in Colombia, reducing the role of journalists to being the transmission belt between the public and the Ministry of Defence. This, while the state invests millions in propaganda to serve their policies, mainly in the area of ​​conflict: in 2007, it is known to have spent $12.8 billion [pesos] on government propaganda, of this amount, 42% was related to the Ministry of Defence [32]. So we have come to the situation in which the Colombian journalism far from reporting and analyzing the reality of conflict, reproduces the official discourse while reducing the harshness of war to that of a predictable and Manichean "Reality Show". According to journalist Maria Teresa Herran, "War in audiovisual terms, is described as a series of successive ‘blows’ (...) [taken] from the videos provided by the Ministry of Defence, the DAS and the Police. The opinion programs are relegated to the stratospheres of midnight. (...) That makes it a "Reality Show", where it matters not so much what is said or done, but what seems. "[33]


Monopoly control of media


In the electronic edition of the Journal Insurrection of the ELN [guerrilla group], it is said that the three major issues that define the treatment the media gives to the conflict, are: (a) denial of armed conflict, apart from when accepted in specific situations, (b) the deep entanglement between the media and the monopoly of property in Colombia, (c) and the common interests between economic monopolies, media and government [34].


There isn’t much to say about the first item, since the media has dogmatically joined the chorus that has reduced the social and armed conflict in Colombia to a caricature out of a manual on "anti-terrorist struggle" for beginners – and which they only accept reluctantly for convenience or to avoid trials in the International Criminal Court (since without a conflict, the army attacks would be against "civilians", not "combatants" with all the implications that this entails), or to narrow the scope of initiatives such as Victims Law. In this regard, says Ruben Dario Zapata, of the alternative newspaper Periferia: "the mass media took Uribe's speech as a maxim: there is no conflict in Colombia and the guerrillas themselves are just a group of thugs who terrorize the civilian population. "[35]


Regarding the other two points, they are closely linked. It's no mystery that the four families who control Colombia also control their more mainstream media. Caracol TV and the newspaper El Espectador are owned by the Santo Domingo group, El Tiempo is owned by the group of Sarmiento Angulo, RCN belongs to the Ardila Lulle, and the multinational PRISA owns Radio W and Radio Caracol. And it is no mystery the role of President Juan Manuel Santos’ family in the Colombian media: his family is a major shareholder in the newspaper El Tiempo, while his brother Enrique Santos was director of El Tiempo, Francisco Santos, the President's cousin, is director of RCN News.


Can you think that with such control of the media and with such crossover with the ruling elites, that the media can play a critical role, to oversee the work of the rulers? A case that demonstrates this intersection of interests between government and business groups that control the media, occurred in mid-October 2009, when Claudia Lopez, one of the few critical voices in the government newspaper El Tiempo, was sacked without notice, following a column questioning the bias of this newspaper in relation to the presidential aspirations of Juan Manuel Santos [36]. It only took a column that questioned the newspaper's news coverage and its clear political favoritism to one of the Santos clan members, for the newspaper to "understand" this column as a "letter of resignation," which they "accepted immediately ". Rarely has such extreme cynicism been used to justify arbitrary dismissal and a blatant act of censorship.


Similarly, it is unthinkable that the media in the hands of powerful economic sectors, with multiple interests at stake in the conflict [37], and closely allied with a government committed to a military solution, see a critical role, or an impartial or even neutral one with regard to the social and armed conflict in Colombia. This was acknowledged in a rare moment of candour by Caracol Radio journalist Héctor Rincón: "We give a very poor content, (...)we have a language which is not of journalistic rigour, does not fulfill our duties of neutrality" [38]. Needless to say, since making this criticism in 2004, the situation, far from improving, has worsened significantly. The sycophancy and mediocrity are rewarded, while investigation and criticism are persecuted and attacked.


All against the FARC!


Obviously, the media are not impartial or neutral in the Colombian conflict, rather they cover it with a hysteria in which anything that is said of the guerrillas, if it is negative, has credibility, even the most incredibly absurd stories. As when in 2008 the media, trying to convince the world that the FARC-EP was a "global threat" put together a story according to which the guerrillas were planning to get uranium to develop "weapons of mass destruction"-which would have been "corroborated by the "about 30 kilos of uranium that was "found" in Bogota and by information taken from the magic hat of the computers of the late [FARC] commander Raul Reyes (which were used to set up other, no less creative fables) [39]. That even moderately educated and intelligent people believe such nonsense, shows the level of indoctrination to which Colombians are subjected, constantly bashing them with this kind of nonsense. Of course, this "news fiction" finally came to nothing, but the subliminal message of an “evil guerrilla" willing to do any diabolical act is left in the "hard drive" of the average middle class citizen, living in large cities that only knows the conflict through the news.


The media reproduce a series of common assumptions that are never checked against reality, and which are part of the official counterinsurgency war propaganda: the guerrillas - and mainly the FARC- are not revolutionary or insurgent organizations, but " narco-terrorists "[40] (a statement that is never shown with evidence that the guerrillas actually traffick drugs, other than the tax they force upon the narco’s - who do indeed have many friends in parliament and in the big economic groups -as well as [other taxes] charged on other economic activities in their areas of influence [41]), the guerrillas do not operate, they "offend" [42], in particular in "marginal areas" of the country (even when in these are in the geographic centre of the country in Tolima, Huila, Valle, etc..), and their military actions, even when these fully comply with the rules of modern warfare are always "terrorist acts" and not military attacks.


President Juan Manuel Santos himself said recently via his twitter that "417 terrorists have been demobilized from the FARC, and 60 ELN. 1,723 Bacrim members were captured in 2012" [43]. That is, the terrorists are the guerrillas, not the paramilitaries.


The guerrillas are said to have no ideology, according to the media: "Not only do the FARC lack leaders like Marulanda and Arenas, but they also lack an appealing political discourse, except to criminals, drug dealers and criminals of all sorts (...)The FARC are no longer the fierce guerrilla with ideological conviction that moved deftly in the night with a great knowledge of the field and with an enormous capacity for surprise in their battles with the army. They are a criminal group facing not only the Armed Forces and Police, but the whole country, tired of its lies and slander. "[44]. El Tiempo would also agree with these expressions, since the FARC are, they say, tainted by drug trafficking, no longer having an ideology [45]. In the best case, the insurgency disguises its "stubbornness" in ideology [46]. But then curiously, the left is often accused of being a front for the guerrilla movement, and we often hear of "ideologues" of the guerrillas being killed [47]. Nobody in the media can then explain why a guerrilla without "ideology" seeks ties with the left or why an alleged drug traffickers cartel would bother to have "ideologues"- something that the paramilitaries have never needed. Indeed, the Colombian oligarchy has never accepted the political nature of insurgency in Colombia. Before they used to be called "bandits", "chusmeros", then "communists" (not to emphasize the ideological, but as foreign serving agitators in the "idyllic" rural Colombia, in the context of the Cold War enemies of order and morals) and now "terrorists". In fact the powerful have never accepted the political legitimacy of those who are challenging them, and at all times and in all lands, these have been discredited in terms similar to those used by the Colombian oligarchy [48].


Whenever there is any assassination or some civilian is killed, the media, without bothering to test the evidence or investigate what happened on the ground, immediately blames the FARC-EP, serviley and uncritically repeating information (partial and propagandistic) provided by military or government sources. Blaming anything that happens on the FARC-EP is a media reflex which is very useful to the strategy of government propaganda, but not to the formation of a critical and thoughtful citizenry.


In many cases crimes have been blamed on the FARC-EP that at the end have been carried out by paramilitaries or the army: such was the case of the bombs in the Gaitan District during the re-election of Uribe, the slaughter of Jamundi, the bombing of Ituango, the slaughter of San Jose de Apartado, etc.. The same is true of all the confusion they are creating around the case of the slaughter of children in Tame, Arauca, where the military is clearly involved [49]. Ruben Dario Zapata illustrates this situation and explains the attitude of the media when it was discovered that these crimes were not the responsibility of the insurgent movement, "When it was learned that some of these crimes were the responsibility of bands of common criminals, the media continued its version, it did not feel obliged to rectify it", illustrating this claim with the emblematic case of the "necklace bomb" where "On May 15, 2000, two offenders placed a necklace bomb on a woman, Elvia Cortes, demanding a sum of 15 million pesos. This picture went around the world on television and was printed in many newspapers. So famous was the story that it was then recreated for television by the Huella Latente TV company, which served to discredit the FARC and the peace process (...) But they did not do the same outreach effort when it was proven that the authors of the collar bomb were common criminals and not members of the FARC. "[50].


Until today, I talk with people who still believe that the "collar bomb" was the work of the FARC-EP, irrefutable proof of its "absolute degradation." When I commented that this act was the work of common criminals they are surprised: "Why hasn’t El Tiempo said anything?"... To which one cannot but respond with a smile...


Exaggeration of violations by insurgents, minimization of violations by state and paramilitaries


The media bias is quantifiable. I don’t know if there has been any quantitative study on media and conflict in the Colombian press, but a quantitative analysis done by the Canadian journalist Garry Leech on coverage of violations by the various Colombian "armed actors" in the New York Times, is illustrative. According to figures from CINEP, by the end of the first government of Uribe Velez, the police was:
"Responsible for 56% of abuses (...) While the paramilitaries and the FARC were responsible for respectively 29% and 10% of the abuses.


These statistics are often in sharp contradiction with the picture presented by the media, in which a long list of statements by representatives of the Colombian and U.S. government often refer to the 'brutality' of the 'terrorists' of the FARC, without mentioning - except in rare cases - violations by paramilitaries and the military. For example, every time a civilian is killed, the government representatives immediately accused the Colombian FARC. The mass media dutifully reproduced the allegations without conducting their own investigation into the murder. And on those occasions when we finally have enough evidence to conclude that really it was the paramilitaries or the army that were responsible for the crime, a lack of government interest in the new evidence means that the mass media does not reveal the corrected information, therefore leaving the impression that the FARC were to blame.


(...) A study of civilians killed clearly demonstrates this gap between the reality on the ground and how the media present it. During the first term of President Uribe (2002-2006), the New York Times published 21 articles that were specific to the killing of civilians in Colombia. Seventeen of them blamed the killings on the guerrillas, while two articles blamed the paramilitaries, and one blamed the army, and another blamed both the rebels and paramilitaries. In each of the 17 articles that blamed the guerrillas, the only sources consulted were military officers or the Colombian government.


However, as reported by the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) in 2007 the guerrillas were responsible for 25% of the murders of civilians during the first term of President Uribe's government. Meanwhile, the paramilitaries were responsible for 61% of the murders and the Colombian army the remaining 14%. These statistics differ dramatically from the picture presented by the New York Times, which gives the impression that the guerrillas are responsible for 80% of the murders, not 25%. In turn, the New York Times gives the impression that the paramilitaries were only responsible for 10% of murders and the army of a mere 5% "[51].


This study demonstrates, irrefutably, the role of media in promoting a distorted perception of conflict in people who have no direct experience with it (either in Colombia or elsewhere). I do not think that the results produced by a similar study on the media in Colombia would be very different. And if they differ in something, would not surprise me if the Colombian media were even more biased than the U.S. [52].


The "official" sources are unquestionable


We have said that overall, the press and the Colombian media, act as effective spokespersons for the ruling classes. This is not an exaggeration and has been recognized, for example, by the Antonio Nariño Project, established in 2001 to determine the degree of freedom of expression in Colombia. In an analysis done in 2003 of the thirteen newspapers of Colombia on the coverage of armed conflict, the results were consistent with the following view (as well as revealing the mediocrity of Colombian journalism in general): "47% of information is constructed on a single source. 21% does not cite any sources. Of articles using more than one source, (31% of total), 88% did not contrast the information, that is, they gave only one side, there is no contrast. Most information comes from official sources, which should be a guarantee of transparency of information. But unfortunately that is not the case - we found many cases where it is not, obviously, because it is a state at war "[53].


Ruben Dario Zapata says that "one of the characteristics of the mass media that has developed in these eight years of the Uribe government has to do with the adoption of official sources as the sole source and official discourse as a manual of style. "[54]. We can say that with the arrival of Santos to power the situation has not changed at all.


According to Ramiro Bejarano "What most Colombians know about this war is only the data that the media reproduce from military or government bulletins, which are obviously an interested party" [55]. In his view, therefore, the presence of foreign journalists, who should therefore have a certain "distance" [from the conflict] and more objectivity, would be essential to better understand the conflict. In another column, Daniel Pacheco also highlights the need for foreign journalists to cover the conflict, as this has, by good or bad (through cooptation or threat), become a minefield for Colombians: "Two foreign journalists, Karl Penhaul and Carlos Villalon, an Englishman and a Chilean, went to the area of ​​the kidnapping (sic) and brought back a video in which a column leader of the guerrilla read a statement where the guerrillas recognized that Romeo [Langlois] was in their possession . In Bogota that cold discomfort that runs through you when you lose a unique story did not happen, there seemed a tacit admission that it was a task out of bounds for Colombians. And without resentment foreign journalists became a source of Colombian media. "[56]


So naturalized is the tendency to accept the official sources as the only legitimate ones, that even someone like Jaime Abello, director of the New Ibero- American Journalism Foundation, can pose an extraordinary rhetorical question which shows that journalism in Colombia is a "world upside down":


"Has the Colombian state asked itself, and have the armed forces asked themselves about their role, that is their social and legal responsibility as the producers of information, as the main source of all that is happening in the armed conflict in our country? I wonder for example, what kind of questioning, examinations, they do to the commanders of brigades who invent or make up stories, because we know that these inventions exist, showing that there are twenty dead, then they change the photo and I don’t know what, and we don’t know if they are guerrillas or paramilitaries, or innocent people and they say 'there are the guerrillas we have killed’, what kind of reflection, why has the country not opened a debate on the judicial, social, legal responsibility of the Colombian Armed Forces as producers of institutional information? So then there's another role, that of them as sources. The media work very closely to the sources, and we shouldn’t lie to ourselves, when we talk of sources we could really talk of powers; economic powers, business powers, political powers, which are those that occupy 80% of the news worthy space in the media and who are the main generators of information. "[57].


If this is the "new Ibero- American journalism" then we really have a serious problem. Not only are economic powers, such as political and business insiders, accepted as sources, but it is accepted that the main source of information on the Colombian conflict are the armed forces, that is, a party to the conflict. Without any shame, therefore, the media takes the side of one of the parties to the conflict and then question them if they "invent" or "lie". The state always lies, the Army will always create propaganda favorable to itself and try to lie about their opponents in the insurgency. The problem is not that, but that journalism is unable to compare sources, to investigate, to question, to go beyond the official figures. That we can limit ourselves to simply requiring the State to be a "more reliable source of information" is proof of the bankruptcy of Colombian journalism. A journalism that differs little from the irresponsibility of American journalism in the coverage of the attack on Iraq, Judith Miller, a reporter for the New York Times wrote articles for months about the " Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction" repeating like a parrot statements by the Bush administration, and preparing the way for the invasion of Iraq, creating the right atmosphere in public opinion, when it came to light that her articles were fill of lies she justified herself most cynically: "My job is not to evaluate government information or be an independent intelligence analyst. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal "[58]. In this way a journalism is created that is built to serve the powerful and policies of successive governments, not at the service of truth, criticism or the formation of informed public opinion and consciousness.


Langlois puts his finger on the crux of the journalism of the Colombian conflict: the conflict


Having just been released, Roméo Langlois began making a series of statements on the conflict and the role he understands journalists should have with regard to it: "I say, as a journalist, you have to keep covering the conflict from all sides (...) I hope that the army will continue taking people to areas of conflict (...) I hope there are people who also go with the guerrillas to show the daily lives of combatants "[59]. Criticizing the invisibility of the conflict areas in the Colombian media, Langlois said "I find it sad that people have to be detained for people to come to this zone" [60]. Not surprisingly, his views caused resentment in most of the media, and he was accused of suffering from Stockholm syndrome, of having links to the insurgency and other things that are always said when someone leaves the official script - that the insurgency are the embodiment of Satan and solely responsible for all the misfortunes of Colombia and the world [61]. Before Langlois, former governor of Meta, Alan Jara, had been equally hostile reactions when giving his objective opinion and perspectives on his multi-year captivity in the hands of the FARC-EP without joining the hysterical chorus of official script [62]. From being a "poor victim", Langlois became a "meddling foreign " for those kneeling to the regime.


One by one, prejudices and cliches that prevail in the Colombian media:


- Unlike those who claim that the insurgency has no "ideology" or that its purposes are "criminal" and not political, Langlois gave his opinion that the guerrillas "seemed even more politicized than before" [63].


- To those that talk of the "terrorist threat" as if there were no conflict in Colombia, or that only report it from the perspective of the state, Langlois said unequivocally that "the conflict has become invisible, we must think how to cover it (...) the government sold the idea that the conflict ended, and it is not so"[64];" We're going and this conflict will continue. Farmers will continue without roads "[65].


- To those who spoke about an inhuman and kidnapping guerrilla, Langlois said of his treatment by the insurgents: "I cannot complain, I think I was treated like any seasoned guerrilla fighter, the hard way, given little, with what they had, but I was never tied up (...) they always treated me as a guest, gave me good food from what little they had and were always very respectful, I cannot complain of that "[ 66] "The head of the Front wrote to me and said that for him I will always be a guest of honour" [67], "they were friendly, I cannot complain" [68].


- Faced with the nature of the military operation in which laboratories to process hundreds of tons of cocaine were supposedly destroyed (and where the French journalist was captured), Langlois said it "was a modest laboratory such as many that are destroyed repeatedly... it was a modest laboratory of a farmer who had counted on it to survive ... many things that are inaccurate have been said about this"[69]. He also said in another statement that it was "a laboratory, a rather small, home-spun, artesanal ... what I can say is that I heard members of the commando saying it had 400 kilos of liquid cocaine in it, another one said it wasn’t that much, another said, but we will burn it anyway, who cares... it really seems, and this is something that I knew before this, that there is a great manipulation of figures, manipulation of facts, in this supposed war on drugs, which is a big failure. "[70]
- To the media who say the insurgency is not interested in peace because the war has become a "business" or if it is interested, it is only because it is being "cornered" and is "weak", Langlois was also clear "[the insurgency] wants a negotiated solution to the internal conflict involving other countries (...) they want peace, but they are not going to buy that they should hand over their weapons and then they can talk (...) they are prepared to continue the war another 50 years. They want a negotiated peace but do not trust the government or the army "[71]," my impression of things is that the FARC want peace, but not just any peace. Can continue to shooting for another 50 years (...) the people at the higher levels within the insurgency is thinking of peace, but most of all, what is clear to them is that they are very strong. "[72]


It is not difficult then to understand why Langlois’ statements were so annoying for the media. Especially when he was quite critical of the Colombian media, echoing the protests that the farmers themselves have about the treatment given to the conflict in the media:
"You go there and it's another world because farmers say things that are not seen on TV, they say the Army is a terrorist (...) The farmers berated me and told me that you, the media do not tell the truth,[you should] tell the truth, the Army comes here they dress us in military clothing and they kill us (...) When you come in as an international journalist people tell you everything they cannot tell because they get killed "[73].


"People in the countryside are the ones who always complain and says “things are not like they are painted in the media ' that is, they are angry, when journalists arrive, they say 'you say things that are not true, our life is not what you paint, the thing is complex, it is difficult, let us explain how it is' "[74]


On the Manichaeism with which the media simplifies the conflict, Langlois was quite cutting: "In Colombia there are still many people that think that the guerrillas are filthy terrorists who eat children and is a bit more complex in reality. They commit many acts of terrorism, but the guerrillas are people too, and what I was saying just now, there are no good guys or bad guys, it is an extremely complex conflict ... what happens is that alternative voices have been silenced here so many times "[ 75]


Langlois had the opportunity, thanks to the international attention that his case received, to make known the reality of a conflict that he has spent years investigating as so few Colombian journalists dare: by mule, on impassable trails, in southern Bolivar, in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia, Cauca, Caquetá, and so on. In his remarks, he has said nothing that has not already been said in his documentaries. These views, which have earned him the hatred of former President Uribe, who lost no opportunity to lash out at Langlois in his insufferable trillings on twitter [76], show a more complex view of the conflict, where the military are not "heroes" but are seen as "terrorists" in many places, and where the "terrorists" of the guerrillas are seen in many parts as a "parallel government" or a true "people's army". This was evidenced by statements from some farmers in the area of ​​San Isidro that said on the day of the release, "The government only comes to us to spray poison (glyphosphate) and lead [bullets], they have made no roads nor do they fix them, they are killing us with hunger. Our government is the guerrillas."[77] This aspect of the conflict, deliberately hidden by the media, helps us understand better why the persistence of guerrilla warfare after decades of dirty war and programs funded from the US. In an interview on Hora 20 of Radio Caracol, Langlois gave an overview of the conflict that never comes out in the official media, but that is the reality of the so-called "red zones", areas of conflict where the insurgency has deep roots :


"The guerrillas are also Colombians and this is a conflict where there are no good guys or bad guys, I think there are poor people who for certain reasons take up arms and everyone thinks they are doing what is right (...) I think that the guerrillas have much to bring to the country, in many ways (...) I really think when you travel to the countryside, to the 'red zones' and you see the thing is very different, and what I say is a concern that farmers have, I’m not talking about the guerrillas, but as a spokesman of the peasants ... they always tell reporters that go into these areas that things are much more complicated than the press in general is painting... for them there is still support for the guerrillas, it's something tough, but it is something that has to be recognised, and they do not want the state, they often still see it as an occupation force (...) I think it's very important that the country know the truth, that the country know what is happening and what the farmers feel when nobody gives them a microphone ... I mean, what does a man with a small hut think [78] when the special forces come and burns it down ... I mean, the guerrillas shoot the helicopter and people get happy, that's sad, it's hard, but it is like that"[79]


Langlois also questioned the idea of a desperate guerrilla on the verge of military defeat, without belief, a vision that the media has fed for almost a decade, with mediocre columnists, who are ignorant of the reality of conflict, such as Hector Abad Faciolince (a former progressive who is now a Santos supporter), saying such absurd things like support for the FARC" is closer to zero than 3% "[80]. Hard to explain, then, how a group of isolated "terrorists", without a social base, manage to hold in check, in many regions, the most powerful army in South America [81]. But these lies, repeated endlessly and without a trace of embarrassment in the media and by the apologists of the continent’s most unequal regime (although they masquerade as progressives), become commonplace in the subconscious of citizens in the Colombian cities, living outside a conflict they know only through the news. Langlois, one of those voices marginalized from the mainstream news, gives a different, critical view from his experience in the field of conflict, not committed to defending the status quo that people like Faciolince profit from obscenely. Langlois tells us of the "guerrilla" that:


"It's very, very strong, these eight years of Patriot Plan, Plan Colombia, they say 'that was the best training we ever had' ... I mean they have the confidence, they love the FARC, love their organization, are proud them. Everybody brands them as terrorists and they are proud of their people's army as they say. They have had forty years of people trying to kill them and finish them and nobody has been able to. The peasants still love them (...) since they have lost ground militarily, they have lost people they are trying to come back to get a bigger audience in the population... they are moving political structures (...) it is more than an armed group, it is also a parallel government in many parts of rural Colombia (...) the guerrillas is something very strong, that is much loved, they love their organization (...)that is another face that has to be seen. They are proud, say they will die. There are defections, of course, but you say to yourself, how is it that there are not more defections? There are few desertions now, there were a lot at the time of Caguan and they say, 'That was very good, that cleansed the guerrillas, right now it is quality and not quantity' (...) they have returned to the mobile guerrillas, they ready to strike, they retreat, they have changed a lot... and so what one says when one sees the lives that these people live, is how have they not demobilized, I was there thirty-three days and what a horrible thing it was, and they say ' our life is tough, horrible, we sucked in the mud all day, but if it takes another thirty years, we’ll do it for another thirty years "[82].


This view of conflict and this effort to understand critically what happens beyond the big cities and beyond the government offices and barracks, this will to make critical journalism and serve no transmission belt of the establishment, is in stark contrast to the subordinate attitude prevalent in the traditional media. Caracol Radio, for example, in September 2009 sent 25 correspondents to a program entitled "Soldiers for a Day" held in Malambo (Department of the Atlantic) by Infantry Battalion No. 4, "Antonio Nariño" to "strengthen ties" and "integrate the institution with the media to help support in spreading the demobilization campaign." In this "instructive" and "fun" program, the journalists were given indoctrination lectures, were taught close order drill, to march and obey the voice of command. They were also taught other beauties of great use to the work of journalists such as to arm and disarm a Galil rifle [83]. Can, correspondents that cultivate friendship with the armed forces be not even impartial journalists, but critical ones? Can those who obey the "command" of the army have any kind of independence? What does the work of journalists have to do with supporting military strategies such as those seeking the demobilization? Why did the media allow the active involvement of workers (civilians) with a party to the conflict? What would these same media say if some alternative media outlet took part in an equally "fun" and "instructive" programme entitled "guerrillas for a day"?


Beyond the criticism of the media: the dispute over the information space


Beyond how bad, biased, warmongering, disinformative, mediocre, lazy and narrow the Colombian press is, and beyond the special role of certain foreign journalists as Roméo Langlois, or specific Colombian journalists working for media like Hollman Morris, Alfredo Molano, Duque, Daniel Coronell, etc., the truth is that it is necessary to advance the discussion of why alternative media fail to gain more space in relation to the official media. Of course, the repression, threats and murder play an important role. There's Carlos Lozano, of the Voz newspaper who has suffered constant threats against his life and recently unveiled a plan to murder him for which resources were mobilized to the tune of US $200,000[84]. Stories of threats and attacks on community radio and alternative media abound [85]. But it is also true that it is necessary to make more ambitious, more serious efforts to build a strong network of media from below to make known the reality of the social and armed conflict in Colombia, which is much more than a military confrontation between insurgents and state.


If no one speaks for the peasants, for the marginalized, then it is necessary for them to create a strong voice in order to be heard. Of course, there are hints of criticism and some interesting experiences in the official media spaces that must be defended and supported. It is also true that many of these movements have communication channels, which, unfortunately, are very restricted to the immediate circle of their influence, their neighborhoods, their communities, their trade, and so on. It is necessary to go one step further, combining commitment and resources, however limited they may be, and counteract the deleterious effect that mass media disinformation has in favor of the political, military and economic interests of a tiny minority of Colombian society -that small portion of the country that is enriched by the war and has made terror its favoured mechanism of social control for more than half a century to implement the dirty war against the whole people. It is also important to discuss what is the role of alternative media - what is being transmitted? How is it transmitted? To what end? To what public? To cleanse our critical, alternative media of easy formulas, overheated speeches of excessive adjectives. To abandon the sterile rhetoric in favour of finding facts and a thorough analysis of reality. To leave the visceral without neglecting the necessary outrage, and develop a press whose objective is not indoctrination, but the development of critical faculties of individuals, lulled by the brutalizing effect of the official media. We should take back the report based on strong and credible data, resume the investigation abandoned by journalists serving the system. This we can do optimally from our own territories, from our reality, from our commitment. Everyone has a bit to contribute in this task.


For now, we welcome that the Langlois episode has served at least to begin to demonstrate the bias of the official rhetoric that is disguised as "press" in Colombia. We also welcome that this episode has served to show Colombia and the world the other Colombia that breathes, lives and grows in rural towns and that for more than half a century has faced and resisted both state violence and the greed of businessmen, landowners and multinational companies. But it's important that we move from criticism towards the development of alternatives, and we hope that this episode is also a first step toward building an informational, journalistic, investigative foundation from which to present the harrowing reality of the social and armed conflict as a contribution to overcoming it.


AUTHOR'S NOTES:
[1] http://cromos.com.co/personajes/act ... The position of the FARC-EP about the retention of Langlois and confusion about its presence with troops of the state is exposed by Colacho Mendoza, commander of the Front 15, http://www.youtube.com/watch ? v = ro8D ... [2] http://www.rebelion.org/noticia.php ... [3] http://www.elespectador.com/opinion ... [4] http://www.eltiempo.com/opinion/edi ... [5] A particularly poignant version of this position was written some months ago by Hector Abad Faciolince, who from his column in The Spectator (in which, it should be pointed, does not accept comments) equated the guerrilla interview to making them complicit with them, also attacking Jorge Enrique Botero and Piedad Cordoba with a fury equal and as vile as the most irritable Uribe. This column is dedicated to mercilessly attacking consequent left to excuse the far right, all with that veil of pseudo-progressive rhetoric, and this case was no exception. This column is a shameful defense of "official" journalism at the service of state propaganda. His position is perfectly consistent with the concealment of the conflict by the media, and not coincidentally, is called, in derision, "Facholince". View http://www.elespectador.com/impreso ... [6] http://www.lasillavacia.com/elblogu ... [7] http://www.elespectador.com/noticia ... [8] See Annual Report 2011 by Reporters Without Borders, p.68. Note that all violations of press freedom and journalists in that year were carried out by paramilitaries. View reports on http://www.rsf-es.org/ [9] See the 2009 RSF report. [10] http://www.anarkismo.net/article/14779 [11] Taussig, Michael, "Law in a Lawless Land: Diary of a 'Clean' in Colombia", Ed New Press, 2003, p.9 . The source is anonymous because of the need to protect the source in the middle of a campaign of extermination led by the paramilitaries of the AUC in strong alliance with the National Army. [12] http://www.presidencia.gov.co/prens ... [13] http://www.pnud.org.co/img_upload/9 ... p.8 [14] http://www.pnud.org.co/img_upload/9 ... p.8 [15] http://www.anarkismo.net/article/10199 [16] For more information on the case of DAS and political persecution unleashed in this state agency, review http://www.anarkismo. net/article/16405 [17] http://www.anarkismo.net/article/14779 [18] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKDP ... [19] http://www.anarkismo.net/article/16405 [20] http://www.anarkismo.net/article/16450 [21] http://www.elespectador.com/impreso ... [22] http://www.elespectador.com/audio-j ... [23] http://www.elespectador.com/impreso ... [24] http://www.contravia.tv/article/det ... [25] On the case of Hollman Morris and risks of journalism in Colombia, made a documentary entitled "Unwanted Witness" http://www.temoinindesirable-lefilm.com/ [26] http://www.elespectador. com / opinion ... [27] http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colo ... [28] http://www.flip.org.co/alert_displa ... [29] http://www.semana.com/nacion/manual ... [30] Ibid [31] Ibid. The case of the journalist did not end there. Several years later continued to receive threats and attacks. View http://www.derechos.org/nizkor/colo ... and an interview by Cecilia Orozco the Moving gives more background on the case http://www.elespectador.com/impreso ... [32] http://www.elespectador.com/opinion ... [33] http://res.uniandes.edu.co/view.php ... [34] http://www.eln-voces.com/index.php? ... [35] http://www.revistapueblos.org/spip .... [36] http://www.anarkismo.net/article/14780 [37] For example, Ardila Lulle is a powerful agribusiness. [38] http://www.pnud.org.co/img_upload/9 ... p.32 [39] http://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/doc ... [40] http://www.elespectador.com/noticia ... [41] I need not insist that this accusation is quite cynical, coming from state officials intimately involved with cartels and paramilitary groups, which was financed by their own leaders, 70% of drug trafficking. The recent scandals of the Uribe family with the narcos and his former chief of security, just as a reminder of this mafia-type regime, which was dubbed by the U.S. itself in the government of Samper as "narco-democracy". [42] http://www.elespectador.com/noticia ... [43] http://www.eltiempo.com/politica/AR ... Emphasis ours. [44] http://www.eluniversal.com.co/carta ... [45] http://m.eltiempo.com/justicia/reco ... [46] http://www.elespectador.com/opinion ... [47] http://www.elespectador.com/noticia ... Also from the media decry the ideas of the insurgent movement without seriously addressing their positions, as evidenced by this poor column of Patricia Lara: http://www.elespectador.com/impreso ... or as shown by a "report" on the insurgency written by Abbot Hecto Faciolince (story in "El Colombiano" that does not contain a single visit to the guerrillas or their areas of operation), in which the elitist writer complains about the syntax of the guerrilla communique’s, from which follows the "ideological poverty" of those peasants "patirrajados" who were not lucky enough to be educated in the best schools like him, and who therefore have no right to political activity deprivation http://www.elespectador.com/impreso ... [48] ​​Interestingly, to cite one example because of this, that in 1876, the liberal Giovanni Nicotera, Italian interior minister, removed the political offense to employ, against members of the Italian section of the International fundamentally libertarian socialist organization and revolutionary. Its justification in parliament is similar to that used in Colombia to criminalize equate to rebellion and common crimes today. Nicotera said, with the same elitism of the Colombian media, "the broad principles of freedom do not apply to the internationalists (...) from which no man is not of political ideas (...) most of the internationalists in Italy are almost illiterate, these people should not be confused with with thinkers, scientists and propagandists (...) where only one conspiracy. " Nunzio Pernicone Quoted in "Italian Anarchism, 1864-1892" AK Press 2009, p.133. [49] On the confusion sponsored in the media about the slaughter of Tame, Arauca, review http://www.kaosenlared.net/america- ... Imen-of-children-even-to-have-met-your-cum-in-the-víctimas.html See also two articles on the case and the slaughter http://www.anarkismo.net/article/17919 and http :/ / www.anarkismo.net/article/19272 [50] http://www.revistapueblos.org/spip .... ...



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