An Alleged Male Prostitution Ring Ignites Debate About Privacy and Journalism Ethics in Colombia

The National Police of Colombia, photo taken from the Flick body of security account under license by Creative Commons

The National Police of Colombia. Photo from the Flickr account of the National Police. Used under a Creative Commons license.

During the week of 15 February 2016, a series of shocking allegations came to light via the Colombian media about an alleged network of male prostitution, financed by senior members of the Colombian government known as “The Fellowship of the Ring”, in which agents of the country's police force were obliged to give sexual favours in exchange for career promotions.

Soon, an investigation was opened against the director of the Colombian National Police service, General Rodolfo Palomino. Then, radio network La FM published a leaked video that supposedly implicates Deputy Interior Minister Carlos Ferro in the alleged male prostitution network. The resignations of Palomino, Ferro, and La FM director Vicky Dávila followed.

All of the above came at a time when Colombia was already debating freedom of expression, freedom of the press and respect for privacy (given that the video would expose the alleged homosexuality of the now former deputy minister). These turbulent events have fueled discussions even more, and made the case the most talked about media scandal of the year.

Twitter user Juan Mosquera reflected that despite the recent resignations, the deeper-rooted problems remain unresolved.

Image: A customer of a prostitution ring quits. One of the heads of a prostitution ring quits. The person who reported a prostitution ring quits. The prostitution ring, and other crimes, continue on. Crime doesn't quit. This is fiction, of course.

Tweet: This is fiction, of course.

Amid the heated debates on social media, María Paula Castillo asked the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos:

Palomino resigned, then Vicky Dávila, Mr. @JuanManSantos why don't you muster the courage to resign too? You don't see what you've done to the country.

And Nelfer Velilla showed his surprise at the large number of resignations in under a week:

Please, no more references to “the resignation”, as I no longer know which one people are referring to, Ms. Vicky Dávila or Mr. Rudolfo Palomino.

‘An example of what future journalists should NOT do’

Much of social media attacked La FM director Vicky Dávila for choosing to publish the leaked video in the first place. The video in question was filmed in 2008 by the then captain of the Colombian Police Force, Ángelo Palacio, showing Deputy Interior Minister Carlos Ferro and him during a car journey discussing sexual encounters with other men, though neither of them mention the prostitution ring.

In light of the publication of the video which seemed to “out” Ferro, Johansson Cruz wrote:

Today's resignation by Vicky Dávila was almost worthless. She caused irreparable damage to the family of Mr. Ferro, and furthermore, unnecessarily.

Meanwhile, Verónica Orozco commented on whether the video should have been made public in the first place.

It seems now that Vicky Dávila has come out of all this looking like the bad guy, and beyond everything, if this man was living a double life it was his own responsibility, not that of the whole world. #myopinion

Diana Marcela Otabo asked for some self-reflection within government and society:

It's urgent that Colombia re-thinks it's forms of communication, cases like Vicky Dávila confirm this. Academic society and state, it is time to talk.

Félix de Bedout maintained that the video's publication was important, but also recognized that it was not the correct way of making the video known:

The way in which the video was released was an error, but the police's investigation into the scandal is thanks to @vickydavilalafm and her team.

Mauricio Jaramillo M. reopened the debate on privacy and journalism:

Yesterday, @LAFmNoticias removed the controversial video from their website. @Las2Orillas have kept it up Do we congratulate them? #journalism

Similarly, teacher Astrid González Nariño wrote an open letter on Facebook to Vicky Dávila, criticising the decision to publish the video in the first place:

Con la publicación del video del ex – viceministro usted ha logrado que yo pueda citar, con argumentos, el ejemplo de lo que NO deben hacer los futuros periodistas.
¿Cree usted que “la verdad” es ventilar la vida privada de una persona? ¿Dónde aprendió usted eso?
¿En qué estado emocional estaba usted cuando determinó abrir esa puerta que lo único que ha provocado en la ciudadanía es sentir un alto grado de solidaridad por el señor, cuyas preferencias “personales y privadas” son asunto suyo y de nadie más? Quizás todavía estaba obnubilada por el reciente premio de periodismo que debería devolver. Bueno, eso es pensar con el deseo porque su ego no se lo permitiría.

By publishing the video of the ex-deputy minister, you have made yourself I would argue an example of what future journalists should NOT do.

Do you think that “the truth” is air publicly a person's private life? Where did you learn that?

In what emotional state were you when you decided to open that door, which the only thing that it has sparked among people is a feeling of strong solidarity with the man, whose “personal and private” preferences are his business and his alone? Maybe you were still hazy from your recent journalism award, which you should return. Well, that is wishful thinking because your ego would never allow it.

Lida Osorio expressed her feelings in opposition to the video's release:

They destroyed the life of someone and their family all for the desire of a job promotion. I do not see the divine justice in publishing the video of which Vicky Dávila speaks.

Santiago Londoño Uribe accepted that the video in question is now part of judicial proceedings, and in this sense posted:

El video de Ferro no prueba ni delito ni falta disciplinaria. Podrá hacer parte de un expediente, pero publicarlo viola intimidad.

Posted by Santiago Londoño Uribe on martes, 16 de febrero de 2016

The video of Ferro offers no proof of crime or disciplinary offense. It may well form part of future proceedings, but to release it is a violation of privacy.

‘A grave act of naivety’

For his part, Ricardo Galán, writing on his webpage, said that in popular Colombian slang, the “twelfth commandment” is “no dar papaya” (give the opportunity to be taken advantage of). He raised the question of to what extent a journalist can affect a person's right of privacy:

Carlos Ferro se deja llevar por la tentación y da papaya al caer en la trampa puesta por un policía que trata de salvar su pellejo y se deja grabar en una conversación que lo único que prueba es que no es apta para menores de edad, pero que publicada en la radio, Internet y las redes sociales se convierte en un papayazo para acabar con su carrera política, amenazar su vida familiar y poner en el debate público si los periodistas tenemos derecho a violar el derecho a la privacidad de un funcionario público más allá de sus preferencias sexuales.

Carlos Ferro gave in to temptation and naively fell into the trap set by a police officer trying to save his own skin through a recorded conversation, in which the only thing proved is that the video is not suitable to minors. But the video's publication on radio, the Internet and throughout social media has become a grave act of naivety that has lead to the end of his political career, threatened his family life and put into pubic debate the issue of whether we journalists have the right to violate a public officials right of privacy beyond whatever their sexual orientation may be.

And finally, Bindy Cerra gave a touch of humour to the situation, sharing:

If everyone is quitting their jobs, like Mr. Palomino and Ms. Vicky Dávila, then I quit mine too so that I don't have to get up early tomorrow 😭😭😭😭, such laziness!

There are some who even call for the establishment of a new media law, such as author Iván Gallo, who in an online Las2Orillas article questioned the professionalism of Vícky Dávila and the family of her husband for alleged links with the paramilitary:

Por actuaciones tan reprochables como la del video, es que se hace imperativa una nueva ley de medios en Colombia, si en realidad queremos salir del pozo infesto en el que estamos.

Through actions as reprehensible as those of the video, it has become imperative that a new media law be created in Colombian, if in reality we want out of the infested pit that we currently find ourselves.

However, public opinions seemed to be in agreement on the importance of public institutions have credibility, Juan Camilo Salazar Martínez wrote on Facebook:

La Policía Nacional de Colombia y la Defensoría del Pueblo son instituciones cuya legitimidad es fundamental para que funcione la democracia del país. Su función es representar y hacer respetar los más altos valores cívicos. Será muy difícil así construir paz, con un sistema de recompensas para los avispados, para los que el todo vale.

The National Police of Colombia and the Ombudsman Office of Colombia (People's Defender) are institutions whose legitimacy are fundamental for the country's democracy to work successfully. Their role is to represent and uphold the highest of civic values. It would be very difficult in this way to build peace with a system that rewards the quick-witted, for whom anything goes.

1 comment

  • ROCKY333

    Homosexuals and pedophiles from around the world support their aberrant lifestyles. They should all be “outed” and prosecuted. (They would have you believe that they are being persecuted!)

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