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Extended Interview: Ignacio Gómez

January 16, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

NEWSHOUR: Has journalism changed since you returned to Colombia [from exile]?

IGNACIO GÓMEZ (speaking in English): I found things harder in Colombia when I went back there — less media there and things are harder to be said.

And I did an investigation between the Medellin cartel and the current president [Alvaro Uribe] and I was feeling quite threatened/vulnerable because [Uribe has support of the] paramilitary. And I think because [Uribe] has studied in the U.S. and he’s studied in London, he understands how the international community can react if an award-winning journalist is killed in Colombia. I think that the prize makes me less killable.

NEWSHOUR: So President Uribe has improved conditions for journalists?

IGNACIO GÓMEZ: No, things have become harder. He was in fact elected because of the media monopoly in Colombia. The previous presidents had been elected among a big political discussion with many media — not just print, but on television and radio. So he was elected because of an unsaid agreement of a media monopoly right now.

IGNACIO GÓMEZ: It’s the situation of Latin American media right now — when the mainstream newspaper turns into a big corporation.

[El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest daily newspaper] was a good paper before, but now they have a big part of the cake. And they have a lot of business around so they are more committed to the government, but also to the corporations. They have more money but they are less independent.

I think that in Colombia what is happening is that more corporations are getting in the business of war there. I have spoken to them too and they don’t think that they are going to win the war. But they already know that they are going have money for the war. They realize this as I am publishing pieces and broadcasting my investigations on political corruption in Colombia. I am feeling a lot more … alone. And I have been told in the street, “thank you for saying that … but you are the only one saying that right now in the country.”

It’s so sad but the media in the country is dying. And it’s dying because of a corrupt business [arrangement] with the last three presidential administrations. The [wealthiest in Colombia] own all of the media right now: the press, the television stations, and they own [nearly] all the radio stations of the country. Well, I mean not all — but 70 percent of them.

But we have hopes because we are still looking for something different to be done … because we believe in the success of the journalism….

What makes me more down is the impunity of my colleagues being killed and threatened in the Colombian judiciary system. None of the journalists’ killers or [antagonists] have been arrested and the ones that were arrested are now free.

So there is more impunity and less journalism.