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Colombia: The Closure of Cambio Magazine

On February 8th, a day prior to the celebration of Day of the Journalist, the Colombian magazine “Cambio,” [es] (Change) which was dedicated to investigative reporting and denunciation, was temporarily closed. The magazine was founded in 1994, but three years ago was bought by the Publishing House El Tiempo, which owns the largest newspaper in Colombia, and whose largest shareholder is the “Planet Group” from Spain. Now, the magazine restarted operations and will no longer be weekly, but rather monthly, and will cover various topics with a focus on entertainment.

The Publishing House canceled the management contracts with editors María Elvira Samper y Rodrigo Pardo, and informed them that the decision was made due to economic reasons because the magazine was barely sustainable. These two journalists have stated on different occasions, that the cause of the magazine's closure was politically motivated.

In every issue of “Cambio,” there were acts of denouncement of such gravity that they became an important part of the citizens’ concerns. Among the many allegations, there were revelations of abuses by the former Minister of Agriculture, Andrés Felipe Arias, who was close to President Álvaro Uribe, and the program “Agro Ingreso Seguro,” (Secure Agricultural Income) which assisted farmers, but allowed Arias to distribute large sums of money to a group of businessmen who had contributed to the Presidential electoral campaign.

In recent weeks, this investigative journalism and denouncements had raised concerns and even outrage from Foreign Ministry officials for the disclosure of details about last year's agreement between the governments of Colombia and the United States to establish 7 United States military bases in Colombia.

The news of the magazine's closing caused surprise and dismay among journalists and traditional media, as well as reactions in the blogosphere, especially because they do not consider the economic reasons as being a valid argument for taking the magazine off the market.

Daniel Ramos of the digital magazine Equinoxio [es], provides his analysis called “Metamorphosis,” with the following paragraph:

Una de las utopías políticas más famosas (y necesarias) en Colombia es aquella que prodigó el ex presidente Turbay Ayala por allá a finales de los setenta del siglo pasado: “Hay que llevar a la corrupción a sus justas proporciones”. La corrupción es un cáncer que mina y daña cualquier posibilidad de buen gobierno. Uno de los ingredientes básicos para alcanzar esta utopía es la existencia de medios críticos, proactivos, investigativos y eficaces, como la revista Cambio. El lector atento puede anticipar ya la conclusión de esta crónica utópica a manera de grafiti: Sin Cambio la corrupción en Colombia no se acabará nunca.

One of the most famous (and necessary) utopias in Colombia is the one lavished by former president Turbay Ayala during the late 1970s: “One must take corruption to its fair proportions.” Corruption is a cancer that undermines and damages any possibility of good governance. One of the basic ingredients for reaching that utopia is the existence of critical, proactive, investigative, and effective media, like the magazine Cambio. The attentive reader can already anticipate the completion of this utopic chronicle as graffiti: Without Change (a play on words referring to the magazine Cambio, which means Change in Spanish), corruption in Colombia will never end.

In this regard, journalist Víctor Solano on his blog ¿Comunicación? [es] refers to the question that he asked Samper, Cambio's former editor, at a journalism forum,(to which was held at the Javeriana University in Bogotá:

Una vez terminadas las exposiciones pude hacer la segunda de las preguntas recibidas y allí aproveché para soltar una bomba, una revelación ante ese auditorio: “María Elvira: Supe de buena fuente que aproximadamente las 6:30 p.m., Luis Fernando Santos (presidente de CEET, propietaria de revista Cambio) le confesó a Rodrigo Pardo las verdaderas razones del cierre de la revista, que tenían que ver con la incomodidad que producían las investigaciones que hacía la revista entre algunos de los miembros de la Junta Directiva; a las 7:25 p.m., eltiempo.com publicó una versión totalmente diferente en la que aducía los problemas financieros ¿Cuál cree que de estas dos va a ser la versión que perdure en la memoria de los colombianos?”…

Siento que el público quedó frío en ese momento y todas las miradas pasaron al rostro de María Elvira que contestó con vehemencia: “La extraoficial. No pueden creer que la gente es boba”. María Elvira siguió argumentando sobre una gran cantidad de pistas que la dejan totalmente convencida de que las verdaderas causas del cierre tienen que ver con motivaciones ideológicas”.

Once the presentations had ended, I was able to ask the second of the questions and I took the opportunity to drop a bomb, a revelation to the audience. “(to) María Elvira (Samper): I found out from a good source that at approximately 6:30 p.m., Luis Fernando Santo (president of CEET, and owner of the magazine Cambio) confessed the real reasons for the closing of the magazine to Rodrigo Pardo, it had to do with the discomfort for some members of the Board of Directors because of the investigations that the magazine produced; at 7:25 p.m., eltiempo.com [es] published a totally different version [es] that alleged the financial problems. Which of the two versions will be the one that lasts in the memory of Colombians?

I sense that the audience froze at that moment, and all eyes went to the face of María Elvira, who replied with vehemence: “The unofficial. I cannot believe that people are stupid.” María Elvira went on to argue about a large number of hints that left her totally convinced that the true cause of the magazine's closing had to do with ideological motivations.

The Facebook group “Active Absention as a Complaint – Do Not Vote in Reelection Referendum [es]” which makes a statement against the closure of investigative denouncement:

Que el cierre de la Revista Cambio obedece a motivos económicos, esa excusa oficial no es creíble! (…) El cierre de la Revista Cambio es un mensaje para los medios de comunicación y sus periodistas. El mensaje de fondo de esta decisión es que ser INDEPENDIENTE, decir lo que se piensa y cuestionar el poder puede conducir a la muerte profesional.

That the closure of the magazine Cambio because of economic reasons, the official excuse is not credible! (…) The closing of the magazine Cambio is a message to the media and its journalists. The underlying message of this decision is that being INDEPENDENT, saying what you think, and questioning power can lead to professional death.

Finally, Jaime Restrepo of the blog Atrabilioso [es], reveals his perspective, contrary to the previous three opinions:

Dicen que José Obdulio Gaviria logró el cierre de la revista Cambio. Sin embargo, a una empresa no le interesa cerrar un área rentable… el grupo Planeta no es la excepción. (…) El cierre de Cambio es una decisión empresarial que tiene que ver con los pobres resultados económicos y no con supuestas presiones políticas.

They say that (politician and advisor to President Uribe) José Obdulio Gaviria was able to close Cambio magazine. However, a company is not interested in closing a profitable activity … the Planet Group is no exception. (…) The closure of Change is a business decision that has to do with the poor economic performance and not to alleged political pressure.

So on this year's Day of the Journalist in Colombia, celebrated on February 9, many feel that a shadow was cast on freedom of speech.

Translation by Eduardo Avila

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