Over the past three decades, Colombia has been listed by press freedom groups as one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist. In Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Colombia is ranked 130th out of 180 countries. According to the report, the country “continues to be one of the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous countries for the media.”
In Colombia, between 1977 and 2017, 154 journalists were killed for doing their work, according to a report by the Foundation for the Freedom of the Press (FLIP), an organization that promotes and monitors freedom of the press and the security of journalists in Colombia. Despite the historic peace deal between the government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), press freedom in Colombia continues to be a huge concern.
At a conference on press freedom in Madrid, Fabiola León, RSF’s representative in Colombia, said that “between 2016 and 2018, aggressions against journalists doubled down [mainly because] other conflicts that were hidden below the internal armed conflict arose after the peace deal.”
“Journalists continue to be permanently threatened by 'Bacrims,' gangs of former paramilitaries now involved in drug trafficking,” RSF notes.
However, the government program for journalists’ protection, a pioneer program in the world, has helped reduce the number of homicides against reporters.
“In Colombia, there are 130 journalists that have some safety and protection measures,” says Pedro Vaca, executive director of FLIP.
In the spirit of World Press Freedom Day, this article explores the work of three organizations that provide advice on creating risk-reduction plans and standards for journalists’ security.
The Foundation for the Freedom of the Press - FLIP
For more than two decades, FLIP has been conducting self-protection workshops for journalists in the regions with the most aggressions.
One of the obstacles to achieving better protection for journalists is that media outlets in Colombia don't apply protection standards to monitor their staff or prevent further attacks.
In response, “FLIP began a pilot program with 17 media outlets from nine Colombian regions called the Certification in Security Protocols and Risk Prevention,” says Vaca.
The strategy is aimed at supporting Colombian media organizations in constructing internal security policies for reducing risks during journalists’ reporting, as well as developing self-protection standards.
Each media should work to adopt stronger safety and self-protection habits in four areas: institutional security (corporate governance, reports and communications); reporting and communication (monitoring and advancement); risk assessment for journalists (scope and environment analysis differential risk); and attack prevention (self-regulation, physical security and digital security).
“The idea is for media outlets to start to put in place this quality measure tool,” says Vaca.
Consejo de Redacción - CdR
Consejo de Redacción (CdR), a professional journalism network, developed a digital security training tool in collaboration with Peace Brigades International (PBI) and the Association for Development Cooperation (AGEH).
This tool, which was developed in 2016, is available to CdR’s members. According to Gina Morelo, CdR’s president, “The tool was put in place in order to spark processes to ensure better cybersecurity by installing security programs on the computers, password managers and implementing a safe chat for sensitive conversations among their members.”
Additionally, CdR developed a risk analysis process, in which each journalist fills out a form before traveling to places outside Colombia’s main cities. The protocol mandates that reporters must contact their editors once or twice per day, explains Morelo.
Reporters Without Borders – RSF
In 2015, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Colombia, in partnership with UNESCO, published a new edition of their Security Manual for Journalists — available in Spanish — which provides guidelines and practical advice for reporters to follow before, during and after an assignment in risky environments.
The guide “provides practical advice on how to avoid pitfalls in the field, and highlights international legal standards protecting press freedom.” One of the new chapters is on digital safety, a growing concern for journalists.
“There are [other] protection tools available to guarantee journalists’ security,” says León, “but at the end it is the journalist himself who has to decide which is the most suitable — the best route to preserve his life and integrity."
Beyond these organizations, there are more institutions in the country that are improving journalists' safety, such as Colombian Federation of Journalists (FECOLPER), that has worked to develop fair working conditions and professional practices, as well as Unidad Nacional de Protección (UNP), a government organization that brings protection measures to reporters.
FLIP is also working to pass a law in congress in the upcoming government to establish comprehensive statewide efforts to improve journalists’ protection and risk prevention.