Manipulation by political authorities, blackmail through government advertising, and irregular contractual relationships are some of the problems that regional journalists in Colombia are facing. These are some of the conclusions of Untold Stories, a 2015 report by the Ethical Journalism Network.
According to the report, the main concern is the pressure to get advertising or direct interference by public officials and politicians. “In the last six years eight radio stations have disappeared. Some have closed because journalists receive threats and leave the region, or move away from journalism. But it is also because media work is not economically viable. The ones that have better relations with the Mayor’s Office and get advertising money are the ones that survive”, said one journalist from Caucasia, capital city of the region of Bajo Cauca.
According to a 2012 report by the Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER) on working conditions and professional practice, journalists in Colombia devote 60 percent of their time to selling advertising. Most of the other 40 percent work on editing and production. The ability to conduct investigative journalism and research stories that affect society is much reduced.
The microphone and hat booby trap is a consequence of the advertising system’s “quotas” that operates in Colombia. Owners of radio stations provide radio or television space for journalists, as part of their remuneration. Thus, owners pay low wages, which are about 300 dollars, and in return journalists get more airtime, which in turn is sold to those interested in advertising. Journalists are forced to sell advertising to get their stories on air.
When a journalist is assigned to meet senior officials, he must first get out the microphone to ask questions and immediately after he must show the hat and convince them to advertise on his media, and thus collect money. Not surprisingly. It’s a situation that makes independent, critical journalism impossible.
In the book called País lejano y silenciado (Silenced and Distant Country), published by FLIP, the terrible consequences of this system are highlighted. According to the research it has given rise to a generation of journalists skilled in “extortion”, who disseminate false information in order to press potential customers to advertise. It has also served to present cases of “parachutist” journalists, who aren’t professionals but “opportunists who create programmes or newspapers with the only objective to make money from advertising”.
Source: Jonathan Bock (2015) “Colombia. Corruption, censorship and bullet points for ethical journalism” in Aidan White (ed.) Untold Stories. How Corrption and Conflicts of Interests Stalk the Newsroom. Ethical Jornalism Network.