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The Colombian Armed Conflict: A clear representation of the ideological model of war

Colombia is full of complex interactions and disruptions when it comes to understanding its long-lasting armed conflict. Journalists and big media groups have played a fundamental role in defining what this conflict really is and describing the situation to the population. How are news reporters portraying the panorama? Is there a biased standpoint where journalists reinforce the role of certain institutions? This article intends to show that Colombian journalism has portrayed a hegemonic war narrative[1], favouring mainstream views, degrading the `opponents´ and defending the State.

Political instability, geographical complexity and drug-trafficking dynamics have all participated as shaping agents of the Colombian conflict[2]. Violence has been present in the country since its independence in the eighteen-hundreds. However, that unfriendliness intensified during the 1940s, when political and ideological clashes between civilians gave birth to a period called `La Violencia´[3].

Hostility has remained for decades and it increased with the big blast of the drug cartels during the 1980s[4]. Ever since, the Colombian armed conflict has been a messy melange involving left-wing guerrilla groups, paramilitary bodies (which are anti-guerrilla organisations), drug dealers, the National Armed Forces and inter-departmental gangs.It seems to be the case that nobody knows who is shooting against who anymore.

Journalism has defined the battleground by performing simple actions, for example, labelling the different armed actors involved. Using the terms paramilitary groupsor guerrilla groupsin a reportage has a clear impact on the way in which the conflict is shaped and understood[5].

Organisations such as the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) or the ELN (National Liberation Army) have been usually referred to as guerrillas. This denomination (setting aside the fact that they might be good or bad) does no justice to the political intentions and organisational aspirations that those groups may have. They probably chose their own names for a reason and certainly do not want to define themselves merely as guerrillas[6].

Those armed groups became then `the enemy´. Being the villain of a journalistic story means that those `irregular organisations´ are excluded from the political community and that the State, through the good-old soldiers, has the right (and why not, the obligation) to destroy them[7].Hence, guerrillas are portrayed as the uncivilised, disorganised and barbaric groups. This classification is also related to the idea of framing, where only certain features or items are selected in order to define and understand a particular problem[8]. Revolutionary armies might just happen to be on the nastier side of the frame.

Some well-known journalists in the country openly pledge guilty to having `a side´ and a biased opinion towards the issue. Such is the case of Salud Hernández, a Spanish columnist and reporter that boosted her career in Colombia. She admits that, when she reported on the conflict, she deeply believed the FARC were criminals. Furthermore, she has always been in favour of supporting strong governmental institutions. Hernández acknowledges that she faced the complex problem of providing impartial reporting and, at the same time, having her own personal beliefs of who the enemy is[9]

Sensibility and lack of knowledgeseem to be a pattern. Marisol Gómezis an editor for El Tiempo, one of the biggest newspapers in Colombia. She remembers how she once sent a letter to a guerrilla member´s relative, demanding to know why the so-called guerrillas were involved in such cruelty and unfairness. The recipient indeed replied, saying to Marisol that she did not have even a clue of what living like a guerrilla member was, and that things looked different from the other side. Since then, this editor has acknowledged that she completely ignored what was going on at “the enemy´s” headquarters[10]. How do they live or what do they think? Do guerrillas see themselves as the bad guys? The issue seems to be of little importance, since most of the coverage tends to praise Colombian Armed Forces, describing how precise and brave their operations are.

Unbiased and reliable reporting of the armed conflict in Colombia presents several constraints. Legal restrictions, economic interests and political propaganda are some of the major limitations[11]. In a country where media groups have direct links with politicians and where independent reporting might be seen as `subversive´, it is virtually impossible to attempt any coverage that does not make an us-and-them distinction, clearly defining who are the good guys and who are the villains.

For the journalist Maria Elvira Bonilla[12], it is Álvaro Uribe Vélez, former Colombian President, the one defining how the story is being told. Uribe has a strong position against guerrillas and through promoting a hegemonic coverage on the conflict he might be getting what he wants: beat them in armed combat.

In such a panorama, alternative media could perhaps be a potential tool to describe the conflict in a different manner. These alternative channels might be a way to externalise what is yet unsaid[13]. However, an alternative solutionimplies changing the habits of a country that has been always oriented towards mainstream reporting. Is Colombia ready for a change regarding media consumption? After more than six decades of ruthless conflict, everything seems to remain quite as it has always been.

[1]As explained by (Cammaerts & Carpentier, 2009)

[2](González, 2004)

[3](Coatsworth, 2003)

[4]Ibid.

[5](Pardo, 2005)

[6]This can be corroborated on their own websites: https://www.farc-ep.co/nosotros.htmland https://eln-voces.com/category/voces-del-eln/nosotros/

[7](Cammaerts & Carpentier, 2009)

[8](Entman, 1993)

[9](Arango Martínez, 2018)

[10](Pacifista, 2015)

[11](Bonilla, 2018)

[12]Ibid.

[13](Harcup. 2003)

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Ecuador: From Correa to Moreno. The impact of the Organic Law for Communication on financial journalism

The Republic of Ecuador is currently struggling against a dense financial crisis[1]. The ongoing fiscal setback has been confirmed by government officials. Richard Martínez, Minister of Economic Affairs, stated on Thursday November 29, 2018 that the country´s fiscal unbalance is unsustainable[2]. How easy is it to talk about a monetary crisis in Ecuador? Do media groups feel comfortable as `financial overseers´ seeking accountability? This article intends to show that financial reporting in the Republic of Ecuador is truncated and shaped by the government through regulations such as the `Organic Law for Communication´ (OLC) implemented since 2013.

The government of Rafael Correa (former President) implemented authoritarian measures that affected the media, the economyand the interrelation between both. After Correa, since Lenin Moreno assumed the Presidency in 2017, there has been a positive shift in terms of government intervention and freedom of speech.

Correa was the Minister of Economy and Finances and president of UNASUR before becoming President of the Republic. He was a member of the Alianza País left-wing party. Lenin Moreno is as well part of Alianza País after being a teacher linked to several leftist movements in Ecuador (such as Movimiento de Izquierda Revolucionariaand Acción Popular Revolucionaria).

Initially, the OLC was developed to foster freedom of press, advocate for citizens’ rights and avoid abuse by powerful mediatic groups that controlled the flow of information[3]. However, this Communication Law brought dramatic consequences for Ecuadorian media in terms of economic sanctions and content regulation[4].

For instance, the OLC imposes sanctions to any media group who neglects to present information of public interest, where the definition and parameters of `public interest´ are given by the State[5]. These types of measures completely disarticulate the way in which journalism usually works. The identification of news values,framing dynamics or expert-seeking[6]characteristics of the journalistic practice are set aside by the OLC, since it is the State who has authority to decide what is relevant and what is not. Even if it might be a fair point that the `old way´ of producing news is not perfect, leaving the editorial decision-making issues in the hands of the State seems quite dangerous as well.

Correa´s government did not use only economic sanctions in order to constrain media groups. The OLC also forces private television channels to oftenly cut their own signal in order to transmit the government´s official position on financial, social and environmental issues[7].Any type television reportage on monetary matters was then shaped by Correa´s perspective, and if there were any opposing views wishing to be presented, the government could always impose fines.

Journalists seem to be aware of the OLC´s impact. In a study concerning professional autonomy levels for journalists in Ecuador[8], several reporters stated that the biggest constraint for them to work properly were government regulations. Thus, how can any independent financial reporting be done if State regulations and constraints can always shape how information is presented and sanction any attempt of independence? The Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ) has already reported cases in Ecuador where journalists have decided to remain silent instead of being critical towards the government[9].These reports might lead to further investigation involving the United Nations and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Citizens also appear to be conscious about what is going on. Journalistic credibility levels in Ecuador have gone down, mostly due to political influence[10].Journalists and citizens, therefore, seem to agree with the fact that government regulations and political matters are affecting the communications field. How to increase credibility levels in a country where propaganda and government views can openly affect journalism?

In this complicated panorama, where communication channels seem to be contaminated, are there any other possibilities for independent financial reporting? Alternativemediacould be seen in this case as a way to challenge the tainted discourse of mainstream outlets[11]. However, alternative media groups are still waiting for the promised change and democratization that the OLC was supposed to bring (such as more media diversity and resources for emerging media groups)[12]. The implemented Communication Law ended up bringing more censorship instead of more openness for new media alternatives.

[1]Infobae, R. (2018). Ecuador muy cerca de pedir un salvataje al Fondo Monetario para enfrentar crisis. Infobae. [online] Available at: https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2018/11/26/ecuador-muy-cerca-de-pedir-un-salvataje-al-fondo-monetario-para-enfrentar-la-crisis/[Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

Vásquez, I. (2018). Ecuador camino a Argentina. El Comercio, Perú. [online] Available at: https://elcomercio.pe/opinion/mirada-de-fondo/ecuador-camino-argentina-ian-vasquez-noticia-576955  [Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

[2]Vistazo, R. (2018). Martínez explica que PROFORMA busca corregir desequilibrio fiscal. Vistazo. [online] Available at: https://www.vistazo.com/seccion/pais/politica-nacional/martinez-explica-que-proforma-busca-corregir-desequilibrio-fiscal[Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

Sputnik, R. (2018). El ministro de Economía de Ecuador, Richard Martínez, afirmó que el país enfrenta una situación fiscal insostenible. Sputnik. [online] Available at: https://mundo.sputniknews.com/economia/201811301083804780-proforma-presupuestaria-ecuador/[Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

El Telégrafo, R. (2018). Ministro de Economía: “Enfrentamos situación fiscal insostenible.” El Telégrafo, Ecuador. [online] Available at: https://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/economia/4/martinez-economia-presupuesto2019[Accessed 30 Nov. 2018].

[3]Chavero, P. (2015). Intervención del Estado en comunicación: políticas públicas para la democratización de la comunicación. Aproximación al caso de Ecuador. ALCANCE Revista Cubana de Información y Comunicación. 4;(8)

[4]Ibid.

[5]Alegría, A. (2016). La ley orgánica de comunicación de Ecuador, ¿Un avance en el ejercicio efectivo de las libertades de expresión e información y en la participación ciudadana? UNED Revista Derecho Político. 95;( Jan – Apr), 291 – 326.

[6]Allan, S. (2010). Making news, reporting truths. In: Allan, S., News Culture. Maidenhead: McGraw Hill Education. 70 – 93.

[7]Alegría, A. (2016). La ley orgánica de comunicación de Ecuador, ¿Un avance en el ejercicio efectivo de las libertades de expresión e información y en la participación ciudadana? UNED Revista Derecho Político. 95;( Jan – Apr), 291 – 326.

[8]Oller, M., Chavero, P. & Ortenga, E. (2016). La percepción de los niveles de autonomía profesional de los periodistas en Ecuador. Anuario Electrónico de Estudios en Comunicación Social “Disertaciones”. 9(1), 61 – 83.

[9]Benarroch, E. (2018). La libertad de prensa en Ecuador a escrutinio internacional. La Vanguardia[online]. Available at: https://www.lavanguardia.com/vida/20180318/441653833817/la-libertad-de-prensa-en-ecuador-a-escrutinio-internacional.html[Accessed 05 Dec. 2018].

[10]Odriozola, J. & Rodrigo, I. (2017). Hacia un periodismo de calidad en Ecuador: perspectivas de periodistas y audiencia. Cuadernos.info, 41, 175 – 192.

[11]Harcup, T. (2003). `The Unspoken – Said´: The journalism of alternative media. Journalism. 4(3), 356 – 376.

[12]Robles, R. (2017). Prensa alternativa exige democratizar los medios. HISPANTV [online]. Available at: https://www.hispantv.com/noticias/ecuador/351009/prensa-alternativa-medios-comunicacion[Accessed 05 Dec. 2018].

AI vs. GDPR: Finding the Balance Between Ethics and Innovation

Is innovative AI also GDPR compatible? Find out here in this article that I co-authored:

Brussels Talking

Isadora Tostes de Souza Barros, Busra Islek, Ruya Ince, Abeera Junaid Aslam, Réka Zsuzsanna Szitter, Eleftheria Katsi, Marta Soliño, Ceren Yaycili and Oyinkansola Awolo

The strict rules of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) are likely to have a serious impact on the competitiveness of the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector in Europe. The European Commission wants to assure customers and foreign investors with its EU strategy for AI that aims for the creation of European AI models that operate “ethically”. Although an ambitious AI strategy, it disregards the complexity of the new technologies and could potentially leave the EU behind in the AI race.

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The Implications of the European Data Protection Regulation on Citizens’ Rights

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) established the EU as a leading actor in data protection issues around the world, but to what extent was it able to achieve its objective of empowering European citizens on data privacy and transforming the way organizations handle users’ personal data?

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) entered into force in May 2018 amidst profound discussions over its possible impact on businesses and european citizens’ rights.

In the first eight months of the application of GDPR throughout the European Union, 91 fines were issued with the regulators, according to the latest report of DLA Piper. The only tech giant which has been penalized for non-complying with GDPR so far is Google, which got fined by the French data protection regulator (CNIL) a sum of 50 million euros as a result of failing to obtain consumers’ consent for personalized ads.

Before GDPR came into force, there was a consensus that its significant impact on the advertising revenue would pose a threat to the main business model of online platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Yet, tech companies continue to monetize citizens’ data, with their main business model still heavily reliant on the use of personal data. Thus far, Youtube remains the only social media network to try out a paid-subscription model for an ad-free experience.

Citizens lack a true control over their personal data

Despite enabling people to access their personal data, many of the data files provided by tech companies under the new GDPR rules fail to showcase how users’ data is gathered and used in an easily understandable manner. Correspondingly, the European NGO noyb recently filed a series of strategic complaints against eight tech companies including Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Spotify for non-compliance with the Article 15 of the GDPR on the right to access. A reporter on The Verge recently came to the same conclusion after putting Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google’s right to access services to the test.

An unexpected result of GDPR has been the bombardment of users with consent forms, displayed each time they access a new website, urging them to agree with the processing of their personal data. This overflow of alerts during the dynamic activity of browsing leads to an “opt-in fatigue” phenomenon among users.

The complex layout of most consent forms prompt citizens away from making privacy-friendly choices, as those who want to opt for better protection of their data must undergo a significantly longer process. The somewhat default status of the “I accept” button in consent forms – which comes as an indirect result of the requirement of GDPR for companies to differentiate between various purposes of use while collecting consent – is problematic and far from being user-friendly.

Social media platforms use different strategies to get users to share more personal data

Tech companies employ diverse tactics such as interface design, symbols and wording to nudge citizens towards sharing as much personal data as possible. This is demonstrated in the findings of a recent report of the Norwegian Consumer Council, which show that the platforms of Facebook, Google and Windows 10 give users solely an illusion of control over their personal data. Despite still complying with GDPR in theory, these platforms manipulate users through privacy intrusive default settings and misleading wording.

While GDPR can be reckoned with the empowerment of the engaged citizen, it falls short of emancipating ordinary citizens whose personal data remains the main revenue driver for tech companies such as Facebook and Google. As the rapid advances in digital technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are disposed to pose further challenges for the practical application of the GDPR, it is necessary for EU lawmakers to enhance the current rights of data protection and commit to keeping the regulation up to date with the fast-moving technological development.