Open letter to:
“La Noche” programme producer Claudia Gurisatti, assistant producer Jefferson Beltrán and presenter Juan Pablo Bieri
Francisco Santos, head of RCN morning news, former Colombian Vice-President
Salud Hernández, El Tiempo columnist, correspondent of El Mundo, Spain
Dear Media Colleagues,
When French journalist Roméo Langlois’ 31 days as a FARC captive were over, you dedicated a 15-minute segment of your programme “La Noche” on 30 May to the press communiqué that Reporters Without Borders had issued a few days earlier in response to the FARC announcement that Langlois’ release was imminent.
This programme segment was not, fortunately, representative of the views of the staff as a whole at RCN, the TV station that carries your programme. It reflected your personal view of media ethics and public debate, and turned the programme into an attempt to smear our organization. It took distortion and lies to a level that was more than a caricature.
According to your programme, Reporters Without Borders committed a sacrilege when it said in its 27 May press communiqué that: “By keeping the promise made on 6 May to free Langlois, the FARC will be respecting a solemn pledge given on 26 February to stop holding civilians hostage.”
In your view, by failing to demand Langlois’ immediate release, we were too lenient towards the guerrillas. But we did demand his immediate release, loud and clear, in an earlier statement carried by various Colombian media including RCN, when the FARC confirmed that they were holding him.
This small detail deserved at least a mention by the presenter, Juan Pablo Bieri, as did our “unreserved” condemnation of the 15 May bomb attack on Fernando Londoño, on which we were accused of saying nothing.
Did you read the FARC’s 26 May communiqué? Far from making a vague promise, it specified a date and precise conditions for Langlois’ release. Should we have treated this announcement as null and void? Should we not have believed in his imminent release? The hope offered by this communiqué was another reason for reminding the FARC of their promise not to hold any more civilians. Each of the 32 days that Langlois was deprived of his freedom was obviously a day too many. The same goes for the many Colombian civilians who were held by the FARC for years at a time.
It was obvious that the FARC were breaking their promise not to hold civilians, as we indicated in our 7 May press release. We implied it, while trying to not to endanger Langlois. In a war, every word counts.
Your attack on Reporters Without Borders continued. You identified a supposed “ideology” and you “exposed” us as guerrilla auxiliaries or supporters. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evidence for your theory was offered by means of carefully-chosen guests, and by presenter Bieri’s questions and comments.
Former Vice-President Francisco Santos (photo), for example, likened us to the pro-FARC website ANNCOL and directly accused us of “being accomplices to Langlois’ abduction”. This comment endangers the staff of Reporters Without Borders because ANNCOL is regarded in Colombia as a FARC mouthpiece and its editor, Joaquín Pérez, is facing criminal charges.
Similarly, Spanish journalist Salud Hernández went so far as to say our statement “justified Roméo Langlois’ abduction.” The programme showed no concern for balance and did not interview anyone with contrasting views, ones that would offset these wild and dangerous opinions.
Your programme did interview a Reporters Without Borders correspondent, but it was our Mexico correspondent. We don’t know whether you contacted her because you “ran out of time,” or because you did not know that we have a Colombia correspondent or because you had lost the phone numbers of our head office in France, although RCN has interviewed us several times.
We do not know why our view on the need to remind the international community about the existence of a civil war in Colombia upset the former vice-president so much and triggered an attack on us by the programme presenter. The 2012 reports of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all praise the current government’s readiness to recognize the war’s existence.
Personally, we continue to be worried by it, given the consequences that this kind of armed conflict can obviously have on freedom of information.
Our support for Langlois remained firm. We would have liked to have heard some comment from him in this programme, responding to former President Álvaro Uribe’s comments on Twitter, after his release, accusing him of “terrorist sympathies.”
Propaganda does not bother with contrasting views or verification. That is your choice, your right. When Santos accused us of “not talking about the situation of journalists in Venezuela,” we must again point out the lack of journalistic research. This kind of comment is worthy of the Venezuelan government, which regards us not as “allies of the FARC” but as “lackeys of the US empire.”
We would dismiss all these appalling and foolish descriptions as jokes if they did not endanger our correspondents and all those we defend.
In short, we condemn this programme’s lack of objectivity and professionalism, and its distortion of information.
Olivier Basille, Reporters Without Borders director-general
Benoît Hervieu, head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas Desk