The kidnapping of a journalist would be headline news in most
countries. But here in Colombia, the reporter's own news
organization said nothing.
"We refused to treat it as news, that's all," says Jos Vicente
Arizmendi, director of a noontime news program here in Cali,
Colombia's second city.
That's not to say the crime wasn't important. But Mr. Arizmendi,
and Colombia's media in general, are going through a remarkable
change in how they cover violence.
Increasingly, editors and reporters here are asking themselves if
they're helping or hurting the country climb out of a spiral of
violence now in its fourth decade. The situation involves drug
cartels, paramilitaries, an Army propped up by US aid, and rebels
including Tirofijo, or Sureshot. In his 70's, he is perhaps the
oldest Marxist-in-the-mountains, leading an estimated force of
Regarding the abduction, Arizmendi says, "We knew they were
pressuring us to deliver a message through his kidnapping. We
considered it absurd that the rebels would use this method, and so
we became involved in his rescue, but didn't report on events as
Arizmendi says that due to his program's refusal to cover the
abduction, the rebels got into the habit of sending press releases -
just like the other actors in what is now the Western Hemisphere's
longest-running civil war.
Several weeks ago, Felipe Zuleta, another a television news
director, came up with his own unusual decision. While editing
footage from the sort of massacre that usually rules headlines in
this nation that sees 20,000 murders annually, he decided his
program was giving the war too much attention, or perhaps the wrong
kind. Above all, he thought, there was too much blood.
So Mr. Zuleta decided to depict the violence in black and white
and to preface the images with the words No Mas (No More). The
slogan has been appearing on banners around the country for about a
year as citizens protest the more than 200 kidnappings that occur
each month. Most are carried out by three major leftist rebel
groups, who finance their war against the government and rightist
paramilitaries with ransoms, taxes on the cocaine and heroin
production chain, and extortion.
Zuleta wanted to protest the violence. "This is the correct way
to use the mass media: for showing solidarity with the people of
this country, all of whom are victims of violence," he says.
The proposal initially won consensus among newspaper and
television news chiefs. But only a few programs have gone black-and-
white so far. While El Tiempo, the leading daily newspaper, has
added a small black rectangle emblazoned with the protest slogan to
its layout, El Espectador, second in circulation, has preferred not
to adopt it.
The strongest impact has been the debate swirling in opinion and
letters pages of newspapers and on TV talk shows. One reader
complained, "This is a campaign that won't transcend its own
Lus Can, editor in chief of El Espectador, also believes the
issue goes beyond a slogan. …