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Since 2003 the TV programme Contravía has been financed by donors such as the EU, foreign governments and human rights organisations.

Photo: Sida

Colombian TV programme sets focus on the conflict

Updated: 26 February 2016

After decades of armed conflict peace talks are now underway in Colombia, and for peace to be sustainable, there must be freedom of speech, debate and dialogue. With the help of independent journalists, the television programme Contravía is working to draw attention to violations of human rights and strengthen democratic values in society.

Since the autumn of 2012 peace negotiations have been ongoing in Havana, Cuba, between the Colombian government and FARC rebels. It is hoped that a future peace agreement will put an end to the 50-year long armed conflict. In order for a possible peace agreement to be sustainable there are many important issues for the community to discuss. These include, for example, the situation of indigenous peoples, the treatment of hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes and the vulnerable situation of human rights activists.

Although Colombia is classified as a middle income country, a large part of the population still live in extreme poverty, especially in rural areas. They find it difficult to make their voices heard, and risk becoming victims of forced displacement when the guerrillas, paramilitary groups and the government's army fight for control of their areas. The lucrative drug trade also means that there are many economically powerful actors who can force people away from their homes with the help of bribes. People often lose their land and find it very difficult to claim it back.

However, informing the population about violations of human rights, monitoring the armed groups or criticizing government policies is far from risk free. Journalists covering the conflict risk persecution and most of them avoid visiting the areas affected by the conflict. This has meant that many issues are not fully monitored.

"For many years it has been an accepted truth in several media that there is no ongoing armed conflict in Colombia. This means that a lot of the population is unaware of the conflict and also that there is a lack of interest and indifference to the peace talks. In many cities, what happens in areas of great poverty and inequality is unknown. Many do not know the situation of the internally displaced persons, despite the fact that Colombia is the country with the second highest number of internally displaced persons," says Juan Pablo Morris, producer of the award winning television programme Contravía.

In Colombia, four out of five people get their news from the TV. But the country lacks public service, and the two commercial TV channels that dominate the market primarily put their resources into entertainment. Juan Pablo Morris does not believe that they have taken responsibility for reporting on the conflict and violations of human rights. Great emphasis is placed on violence in cities and less on reporting in depth or the situation of poor rural populations.

"There is no variety in the information, we only see one side of the story. The military, for example, are one of the institutions in Colombia who spend the most money on advertising, and this has generated a positive image of the army. Meanwhile, there are violations of human rights that are still unresolved," he says.

For the past ten years, Contravía has monitored many of the questions that are being under-reported in other television media. In the programme, smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples and the Afro-Colombian population have their say and the programme also monitors remote regions that otherwise lie in the shadow of the media.

Since its launch in 2003, the programme has, among other things, put the spotlight on the relationship between the army and the paramilitary groups, the role of the intelligence police in the murders of journalists, the links between politicians and paramilitary groups and guerrilla abuses of indigenous peoples. By moving human rights up the political agenda they seek to encourage institutions like the state, the church and the court system to take action and ultimately lay the foundation for a sustainable peace agreement.

During the programme's first eight years the editorial board of Contravía lived with constant threats by phone and by post, and were even wiretapped by the controversial State Security Department, DAS, which was forced to close in 2011. Since then, the work situation has improved but alerting people to violations of human rights is still fraught with risks. In 2013, Contravía reported from communities along Colombia's largest river, the Rio Magdalena, which was hit hard by the conflict. The programme dealt with issues such as the land that the inhabitants lost and their struggle to regain their property. Shortly after the programme, several local leaders were murdered.

Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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