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Risky return of TV current affairs programme after eight-month interruption

(RSF/IFEX) - "Contravía", a TV current affairs programme that was forced off the air by threats eight months ago, was expected to resume broadcasting on the Canal Uno public TV channel on 17 September 2009. Produced by freelance journalist Hollman Morris, "Contravía" has long occupied an important place in the Colombian media, above all because of its coverage of the country's nearly half-century-old civil war.

Reporters Without Borders hails the programme's return to Colombian TV screens while voicing concern for the safety of its staff, who have often been threatened as well as being the target of criticism by President Alvaro Uribe and his government.

The winner of several Colombian and international prizes for its production quality and commitment to human rights, "Contravía" is one of the rare media outlets in Colombia in which the victims of the war and communities of indigenous or African origin regularly find a voice.

"The existence of independent, quality news media is essential so that the civil war's many victims are not forgotten," Reporters Without Borders said. "Contravía's return to the airwaves is therefore excellent news for media diversity and pluralism in Colombia."

"Contravía" was launched in June 2003 as a result of an initiative by the Andean Programme for Democracy and Human Rights, which wanted a TV programme to support community democracy. Broadcast weekly on Canal Uno, it was soon a success because of the quality of its journalistic content, its educational skill and its contribution to the culture of democracy in Colombia.

"The road has not been easy," Morris told Reporters Without Borders, referring to the decision to take the programme off the air in December 2008 for safety reasons. "We were the victims of threats and smear attempts by people with guns, but also by the president himself, Alvaro Uribe."

Morris and his team were threatened by the army during the media's coverage of the recent release of hostages by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and they were threatened by the intelligence agency knows as the DAS, whose phone tapping of many outspoken journalists including Morris was revealed in February.

A few hours before the programme went on the air, Morris told RSF about the team's continuing fear that one day, one of them would be the victim of an "accident" or an arbitrary arrest while they were out reporting, as has been the case in the past.

Reporters Without Borders therefore urges the Colombian authorities to provide the "Contravía" staff with every security guarantee. "In particular, we urge President Alvaro Uribe to respect press freedom, a principle enshrined in the constitution of which he is guarantor, by allowing the entire team to work without fear."

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