Colombia remains one of the most dangerous countries on the continent for journalists. Coverage of such topics as the environment, armed conflict, corruption or collusion between politicians, private-sector companies, illegal armed groups and organised crime elicits systematic harassment, intimidation, and violence.
Only three media groups are able to broadcast in all regions of the country, some of which are poorly equipped and connected. Radio continues to be the most widespread medium but independent radio stations are more fragile economically than those owned by conglomerates. More than half of the inhabitants of the departmental capitals get their news from online media outlets and social media. Although most of Colombia’s departments have their own media outlets, there is little coverage of local news in much of the country. The diversity of news sources is still insufficient.
Colombia elected a left-wing coalition government for the first time in its history in 2022. But the opposition is still strong, which feeds political tension and social polarisation. The government has been using social media to combat criticism from the traditional media, and senior officials have been accused of vilifying journalists. Previous cases of state surveillance and spying on journalists have yet to be addressed.
The 1991 constitution guarantees freedom of expression and information. Each media sector has its own case law, but the multiplicity of laws is such that it lends itself to confusion. The administration that was in power from 2018 to 2022 used Congress to modify TV and information laws, while also making several attempts to restrict press freedom. During elections, media coverage of “public order” issues is restricted to information confirmed by official sources.
Most regional media are co-opted by funding from the public sector or local companies, which limits their critical capacity. The funding available to community, independent, and alternative media is limited but online media have seen a significant increase in earnings from advertising, and at least two independent media outlets now survive on what their public contributes. Paid news sites are on the rise and traditional media are now resorting to the subscription system. After the pandemic, some newspapers resumed producing a print version, but a newsprint shortage and currency devaluation have made supplies more expensive.
Studies warn of growing disinformation and the public has become disenchanted with the media’s news coverage, regarding journalists as biased. Connecting the country to the Internet has been held back by corruption within the Ministry of Technology, Information and Communication. The links between journalism, politics and the business world persist in the regions. National and local leaders and some influential figures have contributed to the stigmatisation of outspoken journalists.
Coverage of environmental issues including the impact of mining and deforestation exposes journalists to violence, as does coverage of topics related to armed conflicts, land claims, community organisation, the rights of ethnic communities and Colombia’s peace accords. Journalists’ safety is also threatened when they cover stories involving corruption, the expansion of Mexican cartels, and alliances between politicians, armed groups and the private sector. Journalists face threats and stigmatisation, and even murder: two journalists were killed in 2022, one of whom was under government protection.