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Cablegate: Military and the Media Conference Aims to Improve

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BOGOTA 012734

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV MOPS PHUM CO
SUBJECT: MILITARY AND THE MEDIA CONFERENCE AIMS TO IMPROVE
INTERACTION

REF: A. BOGOTA 08899

B. BOGOTA 06629
C. BOGOTA 09526

1. (U) Summary: On December 2, Embassy Bogota and the
Ministry of Defense co-sponsored the third annual Public
Forces and Journalism Seminar to improve military-media
communication. Almost one hundred media and Armed Forces
members (including the police) attended the meeting in Paipa,
Boyaca Department. Participants commented that discussions
helped reduce mutual suspicion and hostility, but open
communication remains a distant goal. Military attendees
criticized the press for skewing stories negatively,
portraying guerrillas in a positive light, and ignoring
advances of the Armed Forces against insurgents. Press
attendees claimed that the military restricted and concealed
information, ostracized reporters who disagreed with them,
and used the media for free propaganda against guerrilla
groups. Both sides welcomed the opportunity to air their
concerns and improve relations. End summary.


Military Urges More Positive Stories, Downplays Negative
--------------------------------------------- -----------

2. (SBU) Keynote speaker Minister of Defense (MOD) Jorge
Uribe summarized military and police accomplishments over the
last months. He announced that the military would welcome a
one-day personnel swap between the Armed Forces and press to
improve mutual understanding. Other military representatives
including Vice Minister of Defense Andres Penate and police
Public Affairs Liaison Col. Jairo Agudelo commented that the
press influenced public opinion in important and sometimes
erroneous ways. As an example, Agudelo showed a series of
press headlines on safety in Bogota. Clippings dating back
to 1996 cited Bogota as the most dangerous city in the
hemisphere. Other headlines told of the public's fear of
crime but then changed to reflect an improving situation,
ending with accounts of the city's impressive security record
and citizens feeling secure. Agudelo claimed that they were
all exaggerated and demonstrated that the press directly
influenced the public's view of security and therefore
affected the armed forces' ability to work.

3. (U) Military representatives asserted that their chain of
command structures and national safety concerns contributed
to the lack of communication with the press. Younger
officers added in breakout sessions that they often were
prohibited from commenting on high-profile military criminal
cases like Guaitarilla, Cajamarca and Arauca (reftels A, B,
and C) since the military did not want such cases debated by
the public. Officers added that no one wanted to "give the
enemy an advantage" in the conflict by damaging the
military's morale or reporting strategies to the press. They
also noted some details were classified and could not be
released to the press. Panelists reiterated their
frustration with some in the media who presented sympathetic
stories on the guerrillas and portrayed the military in a
negative light. They dubbed such stories "unpatriotic" and
claimed they prompted the Colombian public to sympathize with
illegal terrorists. As an alternative, Vice Minister Penate
urged the press to produce more news stories on the
demobilization and reinsertion process. Such "good news"
pieces could help bridge the communication gap.

Media Requests More Understanding and Transparency
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (SBU) Jaime Abello Banfi, President of the Antonio Narino
Project, offered the press perspective and praised the
previous two conferences for improving understanding. Daniel
Fernando Patino of Caracol news agreed with Abello's comment
on institutional culture clashes and said the military only
wanted positive news items. He asserted that reporters were
routinely made "persona non grata" for contradicting military
counterparts. Maria Teresa Ronderos of the Free Press
Foundation added that reporters were dependent upon military
escorts for protection in combat zones. This put reporters
in the precarious position of either reporting the military
perspective or taking chances by going unescorted. When
Penate requested further demobilization and "good news"
coverage, some participants countered that the military
wanted the news to be a supplemental, free psychological
operation in rural areas against insurgent groups.

5. (U) In the breakout session, media representatives urged
their military counterparts to accept that reporting was not
an issue of patriotism. Reports should be factual and inform
the public. Patino added that public comments during the
immediate aftermath of the Arauca case only underscored the
unreliability of official sources in unflattering military
situations. MOD Uribe agreed that it was important for the
military to check facts before speaking to the press, but
asserted that it was critical to stand by one's staff and
believe in its abilities. The media representatives conceded
that some press colleagues pushed aggressively, advanced an
agenda, or otherwise deluded the public at times.
Nevertheless, panelists stressed that greater transparency
and information sharing with the press would be critical to
improving relations and the military's profile in the press.

Suggestions to Make Progress
----------------------------

6. (U) Both military and media participants suggested
exchanges and ongoing dialogue to close the communication
gap. Abello suggested that the civilian MOD and vice
ministers serve as interlocutors to promote greater
understanding. Alvaro Sierra, an editor with El Tiempo,
recommended that both sides agree to basic rules of
interviewing and review other nations' military-press
relationship.
WOOD

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