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RADIO HOST DIES FROM GUNSHOT WOUNDS

Gustavo Rojas Gabalo, a popular radio show host in Montería, Colombia, died on 20 March 2006, more than six weeks after being shot in the head by a gunman, reported the Foundation for Press Freedom (Fundación para libertad de la prensa, FLIP) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

Rojas was shot on 4 February after having just returned from covering several festivals near Montería for Radio Panzenú. Minutes before the attack, he had been involved in a minor traffic accident, in which he exchanged heated words with the other driver involved.

Jaime Velasco, chief of the Montería police, informed FLIP that the traffic accident was being treated as a possible motive for the attack. However, he said the police were not dismissing the possibility that the journalist was attacked for reasons related to his work. "El Gaba", as he is known in the local media, had not reported receiving any threats. FLIP is investigating to see whether Rojas was killed because of his journalism.

As the host of the popular "Gaba's Show" ("El show de Gaba") on Radio Panzenú, Rojas often fielded complaints by journalists and other citizens about the conduct of public officials in Montería.

According to RSF, Rojas is the fourth journalist killed in Colombia since January. His death comes at a time when journalists in the country, particularly those in provinces that have seen fierce fighting between government troops and guerrillas, are under intense pressure to avoid reporting on sensitive issues.

A recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), based on interviews with more than 30 provincial reporters, reveals widespread self-censorship in conflict-ridden areas. Journalists said they routinely muzzle themselves because they fear physical retribution from leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, and harassment from government troops and officials.

In other cases, journalists said they were forced to abandon stories because of intimidation. According to the report, self-censorship is greatest in provincial areas, where the government?s presence is weak and state protection minimal.

Last week, CPJ met with President Alvaro Uribe and Vice President Francisco Santos in Bogotá to raise concerns about journalists' safety.

Uribe, who is seeking a second term as president in the 28 May elections, issued a statement expressing support for the work of provincial journalists who report under threat of violence and said that any official who impedes their work "is committing a crime against democracy."

"We will not be content until we can say that there is not one journalist threatened or murdered," Uribe said.

The president affirmed his support for press freedom and said that while his administration does not like media outlets interviewing guerilla and paramilitary fighters, the government respects their right to do so. Santos told CPJ that he would conduct regular visits to provincial areas to meet with journalists and authorities in an effort to combat self-censorship.

Visit these links:

- FLIP: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/73059/
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=16382
- CPJ's Meeting with Uribe: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/americas/colombia15mar06na.html
- CPJ Report on Colombia: http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2005/DA_fall05/colombia/colombia_DA_fall_05.html
- IFEX Alerts on Colombia: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/133/
- Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2006/01/18/colomb12206.htm
- Report by OAS Rapporteur on Free Expression: http://www.cidh.org/Relatoria/ShowDocument.asp?DocumentID=153
- UN Report on Free Expression in Colombia: http://tinyurl.com/f5th2

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