Colombia - Journalist closes radio station and flees amid FARC attempts to force media to relay its propaganda

    MONTREAL, Feb. 7 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders condemns the
threats that forced José Joaquin Chavez, the manager of Accion Estéreo
community radio and a reporter for the Voz del Tolima daily, to abandon his
home in the western department of Tolima and suspend the station's operations
on 3 February. The threats were allegedly made by the Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC) and they come amid an increase in attempts by the
guerrillas to intimidate the news media.
    "Chavez is the second Colombian journalist to be forced to abandon the
region where he lives and works since the start of the year," the press
freedom organisation said. "Like the paramilitaries, the FARC are true to
their reputation as media predators, with the difference that they want the
media to put out their propaganda."
    Reporters Without Borders added: "Local journalists are the ones that
suffer most as they are the most exposed to the civil war. Investigations into
these threats are unlikely to lead to those responsible being punished, but
protection of the media must be reinforced."
    Chavez received a phone call at the radio station on 16 January ordering
him to not broadcast any more army appeals to the guerrillas to demobilize.
Several threatening messages followed when he refused to comply. During a
phone-in programmes the next day, a caller identifying himself as John
addressed greetings to "the FARC's Jacobo Prias Alape column." On 1 February,
an anonymous caller told Chavez he would die if he did not close down the
station within one hour. Chavez left Anzoategui, where he lives, and shut down
the station two days later.
    Two other cases of FARC intimidation have been reported in the part two
weeks. Luis Suarez, the head of programming of local TV station Telemar Canal
2 in the western city of Buenaventura, received a "summons" on 25 January to
meet with Erminson "Mincho" Gutiérrez, the commander of the FARC's Bloc 30.
Suarez told the Peru-based Press and Society Institute (IPYS) that two days
later, guerrillas took him to see a man in his 60s who identified himself as
Mincho and ordered him to broadcast a message about the FARC's plans for 2008.
    Suarez told this story on the air and played his audio recording of the
interview. The Buenaventura police announced on 5 February that they planned
to analyse the recording of Mincho's voice as it had been assumed until then
that he had died in combat. The TV station said the voice in the recording
matched that of previous recordings of Mincho.
    Juan Gossain, the news director of the privately-owned national radio
station RCN in the northern city of Cartagena, was warned on 4 February, the
day of an international anti-FARC march, that he and all of RCN's branches
would be the target of bombings if RCN attended the march. RCN nonetheless did
take part in the march and Gossain let it be known that he would not leave the
country. Gossain has in the past also been ordered to stop covering alleged
corruption involving the city's administrations.

For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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