Santos of Semana Magazine Offers Words of Wisdom Coming from Colombia

COHA and the 34,000-member Newspaper Guild-CWA are proud to announce that Alejandro Santos Rubino has been awarded the inaugural Charles A. Perlik Jr. Award for Excellence in the Field of Print Journalism Throughout Latin America, for his groundbreaking work with Colombia’s weekly Semana Magazine. Before Santos delivered his acceptance speech, Melissa Nelson, a high-ranking official of the Newspaper Guild-CWA, extolled the accomplishments of the late Charles Perlik, who was the longest standing president of the Guild, and described his dedication to human rights causes and labor issues throughout the hemisphere. Ricardo Gjivoje, a COHA Senior Research Fellow and former OAS senior advisor on policy to its Secretary-General, discussed the obstacles facing journalists in Latin America, particularly in Colombia where 136 journalists have been murdered in the past two decades.

The defense of human rights and promotion of freedom of expression prove to be daily challenges in the violence-stricken country of Colombia as well as the theme of Santos’ acceptance speech. Human rights defenders, journalists, and other civil society members dedicated to exposing the truth “face multiple perils,” according to Santos.

At the COHA/Newspaper Guild-CWA event, Santos told his audience of Latin American specialists and regional dignitaries that the media’s role during a period of armed conflict, which is especially important in his native Colombia, where ongoing violence has all but taxed the ability of human rights advocates to institute this mandate. He maintained that the Colombian media “had no choice” because, despite pressure within and outside the government, the press “has an ethical charge to respond to violence and corruption.” Mr. Santos also argued that the media has a “moral responsibility to the victims of violence and oppression to expose the truth, while using honest criteria.” He insisted that, when uncovering this truth, the media must not only faithfully report the corruption and violence, coming from the right as well as the left, “but attempt to understand from where these phenomena arise,” since, as he asserts, “violence is not an irrational process.” He also argued that the political responsibility of the press is, above all else, “to be a watchdog over public figures and institutions.” He further maintained that “this arduous task is critical to building a strong democratic society free from violence and censorship.”

Right after his speech, Arthur Brice of CNN contacted Santos in regards to Ecuador-Colombian relations. Mr. Santos told the service that the country must “close the door” on last year’s bombing raids and that “Ecuador needs to start avoiding those types of judicial measures against Colombian officials,” of a provocative nature. The Latin American Herald Tribune, also published a story on the COHA/Newspaper Guild-CWA gem bestowed upon Mr. Santos and especially lauded the wiretapping scandal exposed by Semana that has had an explosive impact on the conservative President Uribe administration.