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Cablegate: Colombian Media Overview, 2008/2009

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DE RUEHBO #2583/01 2291712
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171712Z AUG 09
FM AMEMBASSY BOGOTA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0200
INFO RUEHCV/AMEMBASSY CARACAS 2595
RUEHPE/AMEMBASSY LIMA 7894
RUEHQT/AMEMBASSY QUITO 8591

UNCLAS BOGOTA 002583

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DEPT FOR WHA/PD - (JDICKSON/CWEST)

E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: OPRC ECPS PGOV KMDR KPAO CO
SUBJECT: COLOMBIAN MEDIA OVERVIEW, 2008/2009

1. (U) SUMMARY: Over the past year (July 08-July 09) Colombian media
coverage of the U.S. has remained positive. The most important
development has been that private television channels Cadena Radial
Colombiana (Caracol) and Radio Cadena Nacional de Colombia (RCN)
reached an agreement in January 2009 with the National Television
Commission (CNTV) to renew their respective licenses for another ten
years after much debate. CNTV approved creation of a third national
private channel, but has not yet put the channel to bid for a new
ownership group. A third channel could improve balance in news
coverage and provide viewers with additional options. According to
the most recent Gallup Poll, the Colombian media enjoys a 72%
favorability rating. It is among the most influential institutions
in Colombia, along with the military, the UN, and human rights NGOs.
END SUMMARY

2. (U) BROADCAST MEDIA, MOBILE, INTERNET AND MULTIMEDIA


A. Digital TV: The Colombian government finally made a decision
regarding adoption of a new digital TV standard for Colombia in
August 2008. Despite Embassy Bogota's multi-year advocacy effort in
support of the ATSC Forum, CNTV selected the European standard, DVB.
The Colombian government cites this decision as one of the three
great moments in the history of Colombian television and says their
decision was based on objective requirements intended to benefit the
TV-watching Colombian public. Implementation of the DVB standard has
fallen behind all established benchmarks. The CNTV and Ministry of
Communications have yet to work out an approach that will allow
users to purchase a converter box at a reasonable price. The
current cost is U.S. $50. There are more than 150,000 ATSC enabled
sets already operating in Colombia and receiving HD transmissions
via cable or satellite networks. Retailers continue to import ATSC
sets.

B. Third Channel: On January 9, 2009, CNTV, Caracol, and RCN
announced that an agreement had been reached for a ten-year renewal
of their contracts. The financial terms of the deal are flexible,
with installment payments, determined by economic conditions,
ranging from U.S. $50 million to U.S. $110 million over term.

However, CNTV recently changed the requirements for bidding on the
third channel. Colombian broadcast infrastructure cannot support a
third channel on VHF and the new channel may initially have to be
broadcast on UHF. It is unclear whether CNTV will be able to expand
capabilities, given that the government is also beginning the
process of converting to Digital TV. The contenders for the third
channel have suggested that CNTV consider either postponing the
process for the third channel adjudication or lowering the base bid
price to better reflect the value of a UHF license.

There has been some controversy over the proposed requirements for
bidding. RCN and Caracol have complained that the requirements for
the new channel do not sufficiently take into account whether the
new channel has the capacity to create and sustain a quality
product. The bidding companies have also complained that the
bidding requirements are not fair due to extra costs that they will
pay if selected. In addition, the Colombian National Television
Commission has required that bidding companies provide them with
extensive programming information for the following years.

C. Foreign Owned Media: TV: National television licenses are
restricted to companies with 40% or less foreign ownership. The two
existing channels, RCN and Caracol, are 100% Colombian owned. Two
of the three contenders for the third channel are foreign owned
Grupo Cisneros (Venezuela) and Grupo Planeta (Mexico). Spain's
Grupo Prisa has owned 100% of Colombia's Caracol Radio Network since
2004.

D. Despite the growth of Internet access, recent polls show that
56.8% of Colombians get their news from TV, 20% from radio, 15.6%
from the Internet, and 7.1% from newspapers. Suscription TV has
increased by 43% since one year ago. Mexican company Telmex is the
largest provider of subscription TV in Colombia. Digital media,
including blogs written by top Colombian journalists, is growing in
popularity.

E. New Media vs. Old Media: Colombian media have taken important
steps to adjust to new media technologies and have initiated
strategies to generate revenue. The largest media outlets have
formed a partnership and created a company for this purpose.
Several Colombian organizations have conducted training seminars on
investigative journalism, on-line journalism, and produced a manual
on information access. Traditional media, such as the leading
dailies, radio, and TV, are perceived to be political and economic
tools of the elite, rather than solely journalistic enterprises.
Though these have maintained their characteristic political
affinities, they clearly serve the interests of the economic
conglomerates that own them.

F. RCTV (Government-operated TV and Radio network): Public
television in Colombia consists of two channels, Canal Institucional
(live and taped broadcasts of sessions of Congress and other
government programming) and Senal Colombia (cultural educational and
documentary programming). In January 2009, RCTV hired Andres Nieto
as head of TV for RCTV. His background in commercial/private
television is extensive and he was given the mission of improving
the branding for both channels, raising production standards,
improving programming and increasing viewership. He resigned in
August due to disagreements with management.

G. Colombian Media Expansion: RCN and Caracol are both seen
internationally throughout North, Central and South America, the
Caribbean, and parts of Europe and Australia. In November 2008, RCN
launched a 24-hour all news network called RCN 24Horas, but recently
changed the name to NTN24. Currently it can be seen on DIRECTV all
over South America, in select European markets, and negotiations are
underway with U.S. cable operators in high density Latino regions of
the U.S.

H. Sergio Fajardo, former mayor of Medellin, left RCN's Radio Basica
in order to run for President. Lucho Garzon, former mayor of
Bogota, left Caracol Radio's morning radio team for the same
reason.

3. (U) PRINT MEDIA

A. There are currently 25 newspapers circulating in Colombia at the
national and local level. Although coverage of the U.S. remains
more positive than negative, the number of negative articles,
editorials and op-eds appears to be increasing. The negative
coverage has been centered on trade and economic issues, most due to
resentment over delays in U.S. approval of the pending Free Trade
Agreement. More recently, there has been some negative coverage of
the just concluded Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) negotiations
between the U.S. and Colombia, though most major editorial pages
have supported the DCA.

B. In 2008, El Espectador returned to a daily format using a tabloid
look. Since this change, there have been a few cases of inaccurate
and negative coverage of the U.S. and we continue to monitor. A new
newspaper was launched called Periodico Polo. Opposition party Polo
Democratico Alternativo-PDA is behind this initiative. Behind that
initiative is the political party in the opposition

C. El Tiempo has gone through no major changes since the ownership
move in 2007. El Tiempo continues to be the publication with the
largest circulation in Colombia. Although its overall coverage of
the U.S. remains favorable, there have been an increasing number of
editorials negatively disposed towards the U.S. At the end of 2008,
Roberto Pombo was promoted from Managing Editor to Editor in Chief.
Former Director of El Tiempo Enrique Santos is the new chairman of
the Inter-American Press Association.

4. (U) REGIONAL MEDIA

A. While Bogota media outlets lead the nation, regional media is
important in a nation where the capital is only one of several large
urban power centers. Regional media outlets face greater concerns
over ethics issues, harassment of journalists, and self censorship.

B. Ethnic/Regional TV: Regional TV is very strong in Colombia.
Regional and special interest TV channels now have more viewership
nationwide, and major regional channels include Canal Capital
(Bogota), City TV (Bogota), Teleantioquia (Medellin), TeleMedellin,
Telepacifico (Cali, Pacific Coast), Telesantander (Santander,
Llanos), and TeleCaribe (Caribbean Coast). One important player,
TeleAmiga, a programmer owned by the GranColombiana University,
broadcasts from Bogota and is seen nationally and internationally
throughout the Caribbean region. Community TV also thrives in the
major cities.

C. Print media in the regions is also strong and very diverse. The
majority of the population opts for local papers over national
dailies. Some examples of traditionally strong regional papers
include El Colombiano (Medellin), El Pais (Cali), El Heraldo
(Barranquilla -- currently for sale), and Vanguardia Liberal
(Bucaramanga).

5. (U) FREEDOM OF THE PRESS

A. Violence against journalists in Colombia continued to decline in
2008. However, Colombian journalists continue to face violence and
harassment, largely by non-state actors such as narco-terrorists and
other illegal armed groups. The threat of violence remains the
primary impediment to a freer media.

B. During 2008, the Foundation for Freedom of the Press (FLIP)
registered 130 violations of press freedoms in Colombia. This
number represents a decrease of approximately 20% in comparison to
2007, a year in which FLIP registered 162 violations. The 130
registered cases in 2008 involved 181 victims: 133 men, 35 women,
and 13 media outlets. In 2008 there were no murders of journalists
for professional reasons. This fact needs to be emphasized in a
country like Colombia where more than 130 journalists have been
murdered over the past 30 years. Despite the improvement this
represents, judicial investigations on crimes against members of the
media in previous years have made little progress.

C. In the first half of 2009, three journalists were killed, eight
journalists reported threats against them, and ten journalists have
reported harassment.


6. (U) BOOK INDUSTRY

A. The book industry in Colombia grew 8.3% in 2007. Figures on 2008
have yet to be released.


7. (U) GOVERNMENT PRESS OFFICIALS

A. Sandra Ocampo, former Medellin Mayor Sergio Fajardo's
Communications Director, currently holds the position of Press
Secretary at the Colombian Embassy in Washington.

B. Cesar Mauricio Velasquez is still the President's Press Secretary
at Casa de Narino.


8. (U) SCHOOLS OF JOURNALISM

A. A total of 4,200 students graduated from Schools of Journalism in
Colombia in 2008.

9. (U) COMMENT: Colombian media continues to enjoy a favorable
reputation for its independence and scope, both internally and
internationally. However, there is some concern that
self-censorship is practiced due to sensitivities with owners who
are aligned closely with the Government. In a recent breakfast
meeting with a visiting delegation of the Broadcasting Board of
Governors and leading national TV broadcasters, it was reported that
the three major news broadcasters all practice at least some degree
of self-censorship. The same appears to be true for regional media.
National media based in Bogota and other large cities are
considered to be more independent and able to investigate sensitive
topics. In fact, recent national scandals, such as the "false
positives" and illegal wiretapping by the Department of Security
Administration (DAS) were brought to light by leading newspapers and
magazines. However, a Semana investigative editor told us that
alliances between national press and regional media have been the
only way to investigate and release information on corruption
scandals. End Comment.

BROWNFIELD

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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