Friday links (on Monday, again) Running out the clock on the Soacha case
Oct 132009

Note added 10/13 – Claudia López writes:

I don’t have enough words to explain to you how absolutely surprised and disconcerted this reaction from El Tiempo’s directorship leaves me. It never crossed my mind that El Tiempo would fire one of their own columnists for criticizing the newspaper, even less that they would to so without warning, instead notifying me about it publicly, and even less without even offering a single argument to contradict the criticisms. I never imagined that the directorship of the newspaper would turn to someone in power, instead of journalism, to report or contradict its information or opinions.

There is neither trust nor conditions to keep writing in El Tiempo now. I can write somewhere else. I’m not worried about that. But I do believe that attention must be called to the excessive risk to Colombian democracy when the most important newspaper in the country refuses to debate well-founded criticisms about the risks and conflicts of interest between its business, political and journalistic activities.

El Tiempo rejects Claudia López’s statements as false, badly intentioned, and slanderous. The Directorship of this daily understands her strong criticism of our journalistic work to be a resignation letter, which we immediately accept.”

This is the testy, thin-skinned postscript that El Tiempo, Colombia’s most-circulated daily newspaper, added to the bottom of this morning’s column from Claudia López, whose Tuesday missives have consistently been among the paper’s most read and most commented contributions.

The columnist and think-tank researcher, who is spending this semester as a World Fellow at Yale University, is known for being a tenacious and outspoken investigator, and gets some credit for breaking the “para-politics” scandal in 2006. Her column has made her one of President Álvaro Uribe’s fiercest and best-known critics. We have cited her on a few occasions.

So what did Ms. López write that caused El Tiempo to give her the boot? She chose to turn her sights on the newspaper itself. She argued that El Tiempo has used the “Agro Ingreso Seguro” (AIS) scandal (the subject of Friday’s post), in which an agricultural subsidy program gave large sums of cash to some of the country’s largest landholders, to benefit the presidential aspirations of a family member.

“Unlike other written media, El Tiempo did not dig deeper into the AIS program, focusing only on the scandal’s political effects,” writes López, noting that the scandal was, however, broken by the weekly magazine Cambio, which is owned by El Tiempo.

But López goes on to argue that El Tiempo’s focus on the scandal’s political effects sought to harm the prospects of one 2010 presidential aspirant – former Agriculture Minister Andrés Felipe Arias – and explicitly to help another possible candidate, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos. (Both Arias and Santos have said that they will run in 2010 only if President Uribe is unable to run for a third term.)

López backs up the allegation of favoritism by citing a web forum on eltiempo.com, an article about comments in the forum, and a political analysis article contending, without citing poll data, that “Andrés Felipe Arias emerges weakened and Juan Manuel Santos is strengthened by the AIS scandal.”

Using subtle tools like a web forum and “political analyses” to benefit one candidate is a common charge leveled against media everywhere. But in this case, the candidate allegedly benefiting, Juan Manuel Santos, is a member of the family that owns El Tiempo. (Actually, since a 2007 sale to Spain’s Grupo Planeta, the Santos family shares control of the newspaper.) Candidate Santos is also a former editor at the newspaper.

López’s accusation is serious and documented, and her attack is strong.

El Tiempo’s journalistic quality is ever more compromised by the growing conflict of interests between its commercial purposes (to win a third television channel) and political purposes (to cover the Government that provides this channel, and its partner in the campaign), and its journalistic duties.

In this morning’s coverage, Claudia López accused El Tiempo’s management of benefiting a relative’s political aspirations, and demanded that it itself. Instead of an explanation, she was publicly fired.

This is extremely disappointing from a newspaper whose prominence in Latin America would lead one to expect that its columnists could cover any topic they choose. A newspaper whose editorial staff includes Enrique Santos, the current first vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association, a prominent press freedom association. And a newspaper that, every week, publishes the often hilarious fabrications of José Obdulio Gaviria, a far-right figure who until recently was one of President Uribe’s principal advisors.

Claudia López has lost her space in El Tiempo, but Gaviria, who frequently attacks her in his columns, isn’t going anywhere.

13 Responses to “El Tiempo fires Claudia López”

  1. D la Vega Says:

    Unfortunately “El Tiempo” stopped being an objective source of news about Colombia long ago. Claudia López was one of the last journalists able to do serious journalism without being censored by the newspaper, until it happened.

    I’m sure Claudia will keep writing and people in Colombia will continue to be interested in what happens in Colombia. However, it is sad to confirm, once more, that the space for serious journalism and democratic debate does not exist in Colombian media.
    Trying to be positive about it, I hope this will open room for independent media, hard working professionals and their readers, who are interested in having the healthy debates that a real democracy needs.

    Thanks to all the brave and serious journalists of Colombia,

    Gracias Claudia

  2. lfm Says:

    Congratulations Claudia! I guess that now that she’s no longer involved in the fish-wrapping industry, we will get to read her somewhere else. Hopefully El Espectador will get her. They, also, have some op-ed real estate that could be put to better use. (And don’t get me wrong, I want them to keep a particularly rabid and loathsome “furibista” they’ve been publishing. Gotta keep with what they’re thinking, and all.) It’s amazing how El Tiempo stooped to become an official press release masquerading as an independent newspaper. Not that they were staunch bulwarks of independence, but still, they used to have some decorum. I’m willing to bet that El Tiempo was much more objective and independent from the government when it was run by Eduardo Santos himself.

  3. lfm Says:

    Oh, by the way, people: whenever the Uribe regime comes to an end, either with a bang or with a whimper, let’s make sure we change the property laws in the media. The opposition in Colombia must raise this issue NOW.

  4. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Again, I ask: Is this suprising? Smear campaigns have been the order of the day over the past decade in Colombia, and El Tiempo has readily lent itself to them with varying degrees of subtlety. Anybody who opposes Uribe or Uribismo is portrayed as a “terrorist,” or as having “terrorist” sympathies. Uribe set the bar, and those who are part of the regime, including Juan Manuel Santos and his vice-president cousin, have been quite content with the bar.

    Uribe, unlike the Santos family, is not part of Colombia’s traditional oligarchy. But he has nonetheless opened doors for it and served its interests well, for they are also his interests. Claudia López wandered onto hallowed ground, tierra santa, honestly and perhaps naïvely. And the long arm of the Colombian oligarchy took a swipe at her.

    Para decirlo en otros términos, Claudia puso cascabel al gato. Y la oligarquía reaccionó. No se puede olvidar que Colombia, país católico, es también una poderosa tierra de Santos.

  5. Doppiafila Says:

    Claudia López tested the limits, and know we know what kind of freedom do columnists enjoy at el Tiempo. They can talk about whatevere they like, as long as it does not contradict a) any family member b) the actions of the newspaper c) the government of Colombia (at least, not in a serious and argumentated way….).
    Is this a surprise? No. It is nevertheless quite shocking (and revealing) to see this kind of powers in action in such a transparent and brutal way…
    Regards, Doppiafila

  6. Marcos Says:

    This was a bad move, even a stupid one in my opinion, but most of you are now simply trying to demonize El Tiempo for your own self-satisfaction when the simply fact is that when you write for a newspaper you’re not supposed to turn around and criticize it in that manner, rightfully and wrongfully.

    It’s not like this stuff only happens in Colombia, you can find many other examples of columnists worldwide who have been fired or invited to quit over much less than this. Not that most of you’ll have the decency to admit this, but that’s a fact.

    Many of you can pretend to be blinded by rage and go into your usual lynching routine if you want, but there have been more than enough previous articles, editorials and columns criticizing the Colombian government in El Tiempo so that’s not the issue here. The record, that goes far beyond this case, proves that it isn’t. There have even been criticisms of Juan Manuel and Fransisco Santos in the past too, so that’s not the point either.

    And besides, Claudia López was never the Holy Mother of Universal Truth that you people want to paint her as being, but whether her claims are or aren’t accurate isn’t what caused her to be fired. Of course, I’m sure none of you will accept this, but whatever.

    Regards,

    Marcos

  7. Marcos Says:

    In short, Claudia López was fired because she pissed off the directors of the newspaper by criticizing her own publisher.

    She wasn’t fired for criticizing Uribe, his government or any of the Santos politicians.

    That’s it, I’ll go ahead and GTFO now if you all don’t mind.

    Regards,

    Marcos

  8. jd Says:

    Lopez has clearly been one of the most incisive commentators in the Colombian press since she started at El Tiempo and her departure hurts their op-ed side pretty badly (as did, to some degree, Maria Jimena Duzan’s move to Semana). Weird to think that, aside from the occasional Leon Valencia piece, the most consistently insightful ET op-ed criticism of the Uribe admin might now come from Rudolf Hommes! Lopez’s bill of particulars regarding the coverage of AIS and the Santos v. Arias angle is also pretty damning.

    All that said…just because we disagree strongly with El Tiempo’s move doesn’t mean she’s immune to a critique. Basically, I think she was overreaching a bit with the paragraph Adam cites:

    “El Tiempo’s journalistic quality is ever more compromised by the growing conflict of interests between its commercial purposes (to win a third television channel) and political purposes (to cover the Government that provides this channel, and its partner in the campaign), and its journalistic duties.”

    The contrast here is the detailed criticism she levels in the specific issue at hand (AIS-Arias-Santos) versus this broad generalization, which has a whiff of “everybody knows” or, worse, “there’s much more I know but I’m not saying.” Now perhaps she was going continue with her critique in a subsequent piece, but I can see how that particular paragraph was infuriating to the powers that be. Not that they should have fired her on the spot, but she would have been much better served by leveling more specific accusations in her next column.

  9. Adriaan Alsema Says:

    An error slipped in this article. “Candidate Santos is also a former editor of this paper” is incorrect. Juan Manuel Santos’ cousin, Francisco Santos, was editor of El Tiempo in the past.

  10. Adam Isacson Says:

    They both spent time at the paper, Juan Manuel I believe in the 1980s. Francisco held a more senior position before entering politics later.

  11. CESAR Says:

    Please, don’t try to overemphasize this minimum issue. Maybe they should not fired her, but go to Court, in order to ask her about proves regarding the possible intentions that she was criticizing, and that of course were causing damage in the goodwill of the Newspapaer. In this case, if informing about a scandal could affect anyone or benefit anyone, that fact should not prevent any media of informing about it. What would be the option, not to inform about things? If this benefitted anyone, what is the problem? In politics, some people can like some people, and some other people can like other people. We, the readers, have the right to have information, but we have also the capacity of making our own views. And the writers have the right to give opinions. But according to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opinions in media should not affect fundamental rights of others, and sometimes things you say can affect the integrity of another person (or group of persons, like it seems to be in this case) when you are indicating possible intentions that you should prove in a Court, in order for it not to be a factor affecting the name and rights of others. Besides that, owners of El Tiempo, as any other Colombian media, as any other Global media, have also the fundamental right to decide who writes there. Nevertheless, Mrs. Lopez and her readers will find another media to write in and read from. I decided not to read her, since I found long ago some details in her writing that I did not share. That is also my fundamental right. And I hope she will find a place to write soon, because is good for democracy to have all the views on the table, and her views are part of the whole spectrum of opinions that we, citizens, must have in order to have at the end a balanced view of everything. She is smart and stylish, and Colombia has hundreds of media ready to allow her to express her thoughts.

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    [...] Límites al disenso impuestos por diarios afines [...]

  13. By The Fault » Blog Archive » On the Dismissal of Claudia López from El Tiempo Says:

    [...] here’s the report from The Center for International Policy’s Colombia Program: “El Tiempo rejects Claudia López’s statements as false, badly intentioned, and slanderous. [...]

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