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News crew assaulted in Barrancabermeja

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 21 June 2003, journalist Yesenia Ayala and camera operator Guillermo Gómez, of the Enlace Diez Televisión station, in the eastern port city of Barrancabermeja, were physically and verbally assaulted during a demonstration by the Unión Sindical Obrera (USO) labour union.

According to information provided by Ayala, during a confrontation between security forces and the protesters, an individual threatened Gómez with a knife and demanded that he stop filming the incident.

According to station manager Luis Francisco Serrano, Ayala was then surrounded by protesters who insisted that she hand over the film footage the crew had recorded. An USO leader told her to leave in order to avoid a lynching.

According to Ayala, the television station had to send another journalist to cover the story because during each demonstration protesters have been condemning Enlace Diez Televisión and asking for the journalist who had been involved in the incident.

USO union leader Pedro Julián Cote told FLIP that "the camera operators put the union members at risk by filming their faces and actions and broadcasting these images on television ? It is natural [that the workers would react in this fashion] when we are brutally attacked [by the security forces], as was the case today." The union leader did note, however, that the workers and television camera operators had been advised to act more carefully in the future.

Serrano assured FLIP that only a small number of the protesters were involved in the incident. Nevertheless, the union leaders should be held responsible, the station manager noted, adding, "I'm not going to hide the journalists because this group demands it."

FLIP reminds union leaders and protesters in Barrancabermeja that journalists' role is to provide citizens with complete and accurate information about the conflicts that impact on Colombian society. Intimidating the press is never justifiable, the organisation added, since it restricts freedom of expression and people's right to be informed.

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