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Press organisations condemn President Uribe's statements, call for a state policy to guarantee press freedom and the right to information

(FLIP/IFEX) - The following is a 7 July 2005 joint statement:

The Institute for Press and Society (Instituto Prensa y Sociedad, IPYS), based in Peru, Reporters sans frontieres (RSF), the International Solidarity Centre of the International Federation of Journalists (CESOFIP), Media for Peace (Medios para la Paz, MPP) and FLIP are concerned about President Álvaro Uribe Vélez's latest statements about the media.

On 27 June 2005, during an interview with journalist Darío Arizmendi on Caracol national radio network, President Uribe publicly stated: "There was an international television camera crew that had arrived in Putumayo three days earlier. That shows how they are warned in advance by these terrorists about what is going to happen."

The president was referring to an attack in the southern department of Putumayo, in which 22 soldiers had died. He added, "there was a camera, and one is worried about that. [Putumayo police commander] General Castro told me, 'I talked to them. They have been here three days'." Uribe did not identify the news organisation in question but stated "terrorists cannot serve as a source of news, terrorists have to be condemned."

No media were in the region [three days before the attack] and this was corroborated in a statement issued by the President's Office (Casa de Nariño) which stated, "The allegations that the president of the republic made this morning [27 June], about the presence of international journalists in Putumayo Department were based on incorrect information regarding the date when the journalists arrived in the area."

The president's withdrawal of his earlier statement was, undoubtedly, necessary to clarify that the journalists were not providing publicity for attacks carried out by illegal groups. However, his statement contributed to the stigmatisation that the press is often the target of. The press organisations noted that such statements can endanger a journalist as much as a death threat does, and are an example of the dangers of disinformation and of the need for both sources and journalists to exercise responsibility.

Vicepresident Francisco Santos had made statement earlier this year, on 23 February, during the opening of the "Second World Congress of Victims of Terrorism", to the effect that the media "were making terrorist acts reverberate, which had more impact that these illegal groups' use of explosives."

On that occasion as well, the vicepresident retracted his comment.

Nevertheless, President Uribe's latest statements demonstrate the lack of a state policy guaranteeing and protecting press freedom and the right to provide and receive information in Colombia.

Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
International Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders

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