Since July 2015, the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) has begun the research project ‘Cartografías de la Información’, which seeks to make a diagnosis of the media in different regions that have been scenarios of the armed conflict in the country. What has been observed, so far, is disappointing: from one city to another it is common to find journalists who have lost their breath in searching news, in the regions there are several stories about the media that have closed and it is easy to point on the map dozens of regions, towns and cities where there is no local news.
This panorama, dramatic for both democracy and the strengthening of communities, is part of the conclusions of ‘Cartografías de la Información’. In the first stage, this work has characterized 1.335 media, in 662 municipalities of 21 departments and in the sub-regions of Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Magdalena, Cesar, Bolívar and Nariño.
The partial result of this project indicates that 6.912.988 people live in places where there is no media that produce local news. Also, that more than half of the municipalities of research are silenced zones. In Chocó, Bajo Cauca and in the sub-regions Catatumbo, Sur de Bolívar, Sur de Magdalena more than 50% of its inhabitants do not have access to local information. In the department of Vichada that percentage is 78%
The research explores the impact of the militarization of radio, which in the last two decades has been used as a weapon of war against the guerrillas and other armed actors. Of the 1.335 media, there are 89 stations that belong to the Public Force.
The paradox of having a robust and powerful system of media of the Public Force and the precariousness of civil public media can be explained by the lack of interest of the State in generating quality content and strengthening the public media system. The need to keep the population informed about aspects relevant to their community has been left aside. The media map in conflict zones sends a clear message: first war, information for citizens is not a priority.
The Colombian media ecosystem is severely affected. ‘Cartografías de la Información’ presents alarming findings and data, and confirms many of the problems that journalists and organizations have denounced for decades: official advertising is used as a tool for blackmail; the economic pressures of politicians and other public forces condition the content of the media; most community media are economically asphyxiated; and there are holes in the regulations of official advertising and community media.
The principal audience of the project are the journalists. However, it aims to reach public officials of the following entities: Court for Peace, Prosecutor’s Office, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Truth Commission, Special Jurisdiction for Peace, High Commissioner for Peace, Ministry of Information Technologies And Communications, Ministry of Interior, ANTV, and the Governments and City Halls of the departments that are part of the research.
What makes this project innovative?
It is the first time that an investigation with this level of detail is done. In Colombia, the main cities are well connected, but the rest of the country is totally isolated. There is no national register on the number of media, nor a diagnosis of the information supply, and this allows Cartografías de la Información to be fundamental to begin to change these difficult conditions of the media and journalists in the country.
It is an innovative project as the web platform can be constantly updated with information on the universe of media, type of property, coverage of the media, Internet, available frequencies and working conditions of the journalists in these areas. Online forms are intended for people to make comments or precisions on the information displayed, and after a verification process, the changes are shown on the platform. In addition, no free tools have been used to display the maps, as they were a designed by a professional cartographer.
Cartografías de la Información has been adapted to have, on the one hand, a desktop version where a more complete navigation can be made and people can interact with the maps and, on the other hand, a mobile version where the results are presented through infographics and stories to make it more agile and useful.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Until now Cartografias de la Información has collected the information of 662 municipalities and 21 departments, more than a half of the country. The biggest goal that the project has obtained is to get the interest of governmental entities to intervene in the silenced zones. We are working with the Ministry of Information Technologies And Communications on an intervention plan in specific municipalities. Also the interest from international organizations is visible, both to implement this type of projects in other places and to support in some way.
Furthermore, from the findings of each department we have been able to disclose particular stories of people or media publishing in other media of the country as La Silla Vacía and ¡Pacifista! of Vice.
The alliances with big organizations who work with topics such as community radios and Internet have also increased and contributed to the enrichment of the project. The joint work with universities involving students interested in the subject has been important for the generation of connections in the distance, precisely in those areas where we haven’t been able to go.
Source and methodology
In the second moment we visit the department and we apply the same survey with questions about programs, support cost, advertising. The route that we follow depends of those places with the biggest offer of media (usually those are the capitals), the municipalties that don’t have any communication means, to see the reasons and if there is a strategy to the creation of a new media outlet and also the places where there is a critical situation regarding freedom of expression.
In addition, in those trips we talk with local authorities who can provide us information about the context and the history of the place and the local media in there. After that, we complete the information calling to those places where we couldn’t go, with them we apply a telephonic survey.
Once we have all the information about the media in the department in our database we proceed to the verification and classification phase, where we check the information before uploading it to the platform and we classify the municipalities and departments with three colors: red, orange or green. The red one is for those places without local information available, places in silence. The orange is the color to identify the places where the local information is not enough to keep the population of the area informed. The green one means that the place has sufficient local supply of information.
At a final stage we upload the information on the website. It’s necessary to say that we also are at the same time in constant conversation with the government and specifically entities in charge of promotingg freedom of the press in the country.
Juan David Mora
María Camila Moreno