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Terms worse than war for Colombians

WORKING conditions for journalists in Colombia are even worse than the war that's being fought in that country. That's what Eduardo Márquez González, visiting President of the newly-formed Colombian Federation of Journalists, told London Freelance Branch at its April meeting.

Eduardo Márquez González: Photo © David Hoffman
Eduardo Márquez González

Speaking through his colleague Karem Cepeda DÍaz ("Karen"), advisor to the Federation and interpreter, Eduardo said that journalists in Colombia "are simultaneously freelance and not freelance, freelance because we have no contract," but not freelance because they have to be available at all times for their clients and are not allowed to work for the their competition.

Journalists, to survive, have to sell advertising. "The businessman and media owner opens his doors to whoever wants to write about him," journalists who want to make news programmes pay to rent for space on TV and sell advertising, and distribute the profits among the team. There are no salaries or anything. Outside (the capital) Bogota, local journalists have to resort to the mayor's office or local government and advertise them" to make a living.

Public officials demand from journalists that in exchange for granting them a contract, the journalist has to to advertise that official with positive coverage of their administration. And "we are threatened also by the extreme left and extreme right, the corrupt and the narco-traffickers, press freedom only exists for a privileged group in Colombia," Eduardo said.

The Colombian Federation of Journalists started as a professional association, not a union, as setting up a union was initially too dangerous. There have been 250 trade unionists and nine journalists killed in the country since 2005, and Eduardo had recently been kidnapped, although he was too modest to mention this on his visit. "We created a Colombian Federation from regional organisations last year, and went national this year," said Eduardo. He highlighted the importance of NUJ support in establishing the union, describing the NUJ's engagement as "a protective shield for us back home." He told LFB members, "If you are travelling in Colombia, you are more than welcome in Bogota"with the union. (See their website www.fipcolombia.com.)

A Branch collection at the meeting raised £85 towards the costs of the Federation's visit, but Eduardo said British journalists can best help Colombian colleagues by "disclosing and raising awareness, not just about work conditions, but also the war.".

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