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Journalist threatened in Montería; reporters' work impeded by Sincelejo hospital managers

(IFJ/IFEX) - On 19 August 2008, Jorge Otero Martínez, director of the programme "Zona Franca", broadcast on Channel 2 Nortevisión television station, was threatened in the city of Montería by William Taboada, former auditor of an Emergency Medical Centre (Centro de Atención Médica de Urgencia, CAMU). In a separate development, journalists have been prevented from covering news inside the Sincelejo University Hospital.

Otero told IFJ's Solidarity Centre in Colombia that at approximately 7:50 a.m. (local time), he was doing some shopping when he was approached by Taboada, who in an arrogant tone asked why he had not continued coverage about the El Amparo CAMU. The former auditor was referring to the fact that "Zona Franca" had reported on allegations of fund mismanagement at the health center while Taboada was the center's auditor. Otero responded that the case was being investigated by the authorities.

In response, Taboada said: "You aggravated me a few months ago on your programme and I warned you to stop . . . ". The journalist explained that Taboada, as a government official who was in the public eye, would be scrutinised by the press and that as a journalist he had had a responsibility to make public the results of the audit carried out by the Mayor's Office. "Be careful, because things could go badly for you . . .", responded Taboada. The journalist asked if Taboada was threatening him, and the former auditor yelled, "take it the way you like. Yes, I am (threatening you), because you're a bunch of cheap journalists".

Meantime, journalists in Sincelejo have expressed concern over an order issued by Juan Arana Chacón, university hospital manager, and assistant manager Estella Vásquez García, instructing the hospital's security staff that reporters cannot enter the hospital without special permission.

On 14 August, an "El Meridiano" journalist, based in Sucre, was prevented from reporting on an attempted suicide by a minor. Similarly, on 11 August, journalist Edith Guerra faced restrictions when she attempted to cover the shooting of a car mechanic.

Journalist Pedro Llanos was also prevented from entering the hospital because he did not have the required authorisation. When he tried to obtain permission, he was told that the person he needed to speak to was not available. Félix Hernández, correspondent for Caracol Radio station in Sucre, faced similar restrictions.

Eduardo Márquez, director of the IFJ's solidarity centre in Colombia and president of the Colombian Journalists' Federation (Federación Colombiana de Periodistas, FECOLPER), condemned the threats against Otero and the restrictions imposed in Sincelejo. Márquez said the university hospital's directive was a violation of Article 20 of the Constitution and expressed his intent to file a complaint with the Attorney General's Office.

FECOLPER represents over 1100 journalists in 19 departments throughout Colombia. IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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