While journalists working in Colombia still face widespread violence, censorship and intimidation, 2016 was the first in seven years that a journalist was not killed, according to an annual report from the Colombian Foundation for the Freedom of the Press, or FLIP, published Thursday.
According to the report, 2016 saw 216 attacks against the press involving 262 victims, which amounts to a nearly 50 percent increase in attacks from 2015. This included death threats, kidnapping, intimidation, persecution and censorship, which has continually stood in the way of freedom of speech as the country moves to implement peace after decades of conflict.
The report, released to coincide with Journalist's Day, reported intimidation as the most frequent form of aggression against journalists with 90 violations, followed by obstruction, physical violence and stigmatization.
One of the most disturbing cases involved the abduction of five journalists in El Tarra, close to the border with Venezuela. Bogota, the capital and most populous city in Colombia, was the most dangerous region for journalists with 46 reported violations and 52 victims.
Despite continued attacks against journalists, the silver lining of 2016 was that it was the first time in seven years that no journalists were killed in the country for carrying out their job. Flor Alba Nuñez was the last journalist to be killed outside of her office at radio station La Preferia on Sep. 10, 2015. Her case is still be investigated.
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Experts say that the decrease in journalist killings is a result of moves towards ongoing peace between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. Other factors such as improved protection and the increased political cost of killing a journalist have also helped to lower the death count.
After investigating media conditions in conflict zones in 2016, the FLIP report found that “areas most affected by the conflict or isolated from the rest of the country do not have sufficient means of communication to report on local issues, or there are no guarantees for free journalistic work.”
FLIP said that the media and in particular censorship, plays an ever important role in the transition to lasting peace, and that the establishment of the Truth Commission would help to bring justice for crimes committed against the press and help address rampant impunity.
“Now that we are able to identify where censorship is lurking, it is everyone's responsibility to fight against it so that tomorrow does not leave us speechless,” the report said.
The foundation warned that censorship “continues to mutate and is far from leaving,” in a press statement on its website, explaining that internet technology “is leaving many open questions around what is legitimate or not.” It pointed out the increasing influence of tech giants such as Google and Facebook in disseminating information. “If the power of filtering or not access certain links is left in their hands, freedom of access to information may be marginalized.”
While Colombia has made some strides forward in the protection of journalists, it still remains one of the most deadly countries for social activists.