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FEWER ATTACKS AGAINST MEDIA MASK CULTURE OF SELF CENSORSHIP

In Colombia, where a long-standing civil conflict has made the country one of the world's most dangerous for the press, 2004 appears at first glance to have been a safer year for journalists, according to a new report by the Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para la libertad de prensa, FLIP).

The IFEX member says two journalists were murdered in the line of duty last year, three fewer than in 2003. Seventy-seven violations - including murders, physical assaults, forced exile, threats and arrests - were recorded in 2004. In 2003 and 2002, FLIP recorded 94 violations and 111 violations, respectively.

However, while these figures would appear to indicate progress for press freedom, FLIP says there is still cause for concern. Impunity continues to be a major problem. In more than 90 per cent of the cases where FLIP has reported a press freedom violation to authorities, not a single individual has been brought to justice.

FLIP also says it recorded a 50 per cent increase in physical assaults against journalists and incidents where media were prevented from covering events. The fear of being attacked has bred a culture of self-censorship among journalists, who avoid reporting on sensitive topics, including the activities of paramilitary organisations in the country.

FLIP says the situation in the town of Cúcuta is particularly troubling. In the past year, eight journalists have received death threats.

This week, FLIP is leading an international delegation of press freedom organisations, including Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and International Media Support, to Cúcuta to investigate the situation further.

From 9-10 February, the delegation will meet with local journalists, media executives and non-governmental organisations. A press conference will be held on 10 February to present preliminary results of the mission.

FLIP's annual report is available (in Spanish) on its website: http://www.flip.org.co

Visit:

- Human Rights Watch Backgrounder on Colombia: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/01/13/colomb9847.htm
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12300
- IMS: http://www.i-m-s.dk/
- International Crisis Group: http://www.icg.org/home/index.cfm?id=1269&l=1

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