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Television journalists mistreated in Medellín and Bucaramanga while covering marches against violence

(FLIP/IFEX) - On 6 March 2008, during the "March against violence" - a day of marches in different parts of the country, organised to protest against violence - several news crews covering the events of the day were assaulted or abused in other ways by some of the demonstrators, who shouted insults against the media and tried to damage their equipment.

The first incident took place at 12:20 p.m. (local time) in Medellín, Colombia's second-largest city and the capital of the department of Antioquia. Journalist Eduardo Bermúdez Pérez and camera operator Juan Esteban Restrepo, both of whom work in Medellín for the RCN national television station, were broadcasting live for the noon edition of the news when a group of demonstrators began insulting them while the journalists were on air. "Liars! Fawning journalists!" the demonstrators shouted at them. They also displayed before the cameras placards with messages denigrating RCN. Bermúdez told FLIP, "it was very unpleasant to have their insults heard on air."

When the broadcast ended, an unidentified individual approached Bermúdez and berated him, shouting that Bermúdez was a liar and accusing the station of not telling the truth. Bermúdez argued back, saying that he was only doing his job. Meanwhile, Restrepo recorded the incident, to prevent it from escalating.

Later, the journalists saw that among the demonstrators were people photographing or videotaping them. Due to the situation, the crew decided to not cover the rest of the march.

At 3:30 p.m. in Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander department, a similar incident occurred. Caracol television network's journalist and camera operator - Óscar Gerardo Hernández and Antonio Campillo, respectively - were filming for the network's evening coverage, when unidentified individuals began insulting them. Suddenly, a hooded man approached them, insulted them again, hit their camera several times and spray-painted its lens. The camera was seriously damaged, and the journalists felt unsafe.

On 7 March, the Santander journalists' association (Corporación de Periodistas de Santander, CPS) received a message sent to the CPS's blog. The assailants from the march said the hostility was not against the journalists, but the media outlets, which "we don't believe." As well, Hernández told FLIP that the hooded man is apparently a student from the Santander Industrial University (Universidad Industrial de Santander)."The university authorities are already helping us to identify him," Hernández said; he also filed a complaint with the city police.

FLIP is concerned that these kinds of reactions to journalists should take place on a day against violence. Contrary to the intentions of this citizens' initiative, those who mistreated the press demonstrated intolerance, in violating the peaceful atmosphere that predominated during the demonstrations. FLIP calls on the authorities to investigate these incidents and protect journalists covering public demonstrations.

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