Over the weekend, I attended a fascinating talk about self-regulation in the media. It was part of the Bogota International Book Fair, an annual event that attracts thousands of people to look at books and other things. The talk was about the internal tools Colombian media channels use to maintain integrity and high standards. The panellists, a couple of well seasoned male journalists, and a younger woman representing a relatively nascent newspaper, were all clearly very passionate about their trade though it was clear the generational gap marked their difference in opinion.
Unsurprisingly, part of the debate was about the difference between self-regulation and censorship. They disagreed on how fine the dividing line is between the two, but each case was made with interesting examples. In a country where news are mostly sensationalist, largely with a conservative slant, and very often protecting those in power, I was expecting a great deal of defensive postures, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear the honest reflections of the panellists.
The bottom line, from what I gathered, is that we still live in a country where telling the truth is a dangerous endeavour and journalists must be pragmatic if they are to continue to tell the news, which starts by staying alive. One of the examples came from a province in the north of the country where armed groups, despite the official end of the conflict, are still active and where denouncing them by name can get journalists killed. In that case, one of the panellists said, there is responsibility for self-survival which is sometimes more pressing than telling the full story.
In another example, the woman from the smaller newspaper spoke about the introspective process her team underwent in regards to the Venezuelan crisis. She spoke about a workshop they underwent with the support of UNHCR in which they realised, her team was framing the news in a way that promoted xenophobia by placing emphasis on the nationality when telling the story of certain crimes, and making thatthe story. And while people like me, who read the papers and see how hatred is instigated by media channels, nodded immediately at how evident such malpractice was, after listening to her, I could also understand the dilemma inside a news room when giving guidance to writers about what the information that…