A few lessons from a Colombian internship

I held copies of two death threats a journalist received. One scraggly-written note read, “Shut up, or we’ll shut you up.”

This threat didn’t happen at the height of the drug conflict here in Colombia nearly two decades ago, when killings of journalists were at their highest.

It happened in 2013. That September 11 as Edison Molina rode home from work on his motorcycle he was shot four times. He died later in the hospital.

I had read about the deaths of Colombian journalists. But holding something physical, seeing the same handwriting he saw made me shudder.  It made me think of the kind of risks journalists throughout the world face to speak up and tell the truth.

And it made me appreciate even more the kind of respect for freedom of the press and expression that exists in the United States.

To say the least, then, I’ve learned a lot in my five weeks here in Colombia.(Though it saddens me to think this journey is almost half-way done.) One of my favorite parts of work is listening to the conversations my co-workers have. It’s from those I gain more insight into the world of journalism here.

One conversation stands out to me. We sat around the lunch table at Crepes and Waffles after a workshop evaluating a freedom of press index  built by a sister organization.

Someone mentioned how threats against journalists were considered just another part of the job. Even government workers think so.

“Pa’ que se metio a ser periodista, si sabia que esto era parte del trabajo?” a co-worker recalled a policeman saying when he discussed a case with her. (“Why did you become a journalist if you knew that was part of the job?”)

We awkwardly chuckled.

“The parts of the job that should come with being a journalist are getting a flat tire, missing a flight or having technical difficulties,” another commented.

Maybe so.

But the greatest challenge will be changing people’s mentality about what’s “normal” for a jouranlist here. There’s a lot that would have to happen for that shift to take place.

Justice would mean justice. Cases wouldn’t take 10 or more years to reach some sort of conclusion. The Attorney General Office wouldn´t release a man who confessed to the torture and kidnapping of a journalist and then arrest him again.

I’m just starting to get bits and pieces of the whole picture of the journalistic environment present here. It’s wonderful to be learning all of this, and at the same time, a bit scary to know all of this is real, not just a read of a newspaper article.

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