Journalists Face Death Threats and Self-Censorship in Colombia RISKY WRITING

Article excerpt

"Just call me pro-Yankee" read the title of the column Gerardo Bedoya wrote shortly before his death. In it, he said he preferred United States interference to cocaine corruption in Colombia's government.

On March 20, a motorcycle-riding assassin shot down the editor of the El Pais daily in Cali as he walked to his car.

"A journalist in Colombia is always watching over her shoulder," says Mary Isabel Rueda, director of QAP TV news. Colombia is the riskiest place to practice journalism in the Western Hemisphere, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Forty-two journalists here have been killed in the last decade, 10 percent of the world total. And while the press is free of overt censorship, journalists say they face a practice as restrictive. "Self-censorship" comes either from pressure from conglomerates that own most media or threats from drug cartels, leftist guerrillas, and right-wing paramilitaries. Further restricting the press, President Ernesto Samper Pisano - angered by the media's coverage of his government's many scandals - has pushed a law through Congress to control television news. The new law requires that news programming be judged by the government for its "objectivity" every six months. If deemed unobjective, the licenses could be taken away. "It's blackmail. The law is full of arbitrary reasons to license or not license any station," says Ms. Rueda, whose QAP news is seen as a special target because of its heavy coverage of the allegations that the president received campaign money from Cali drug lords. "It's hard to find investors when you could be shut down every six months," she says. QAP and other news organizations say they hope Colombia's constitutional court will overturn the law. …