Foreign perception


Colombia’s history is fraught with corruption, fights for power, and violence. The country’s weak government and justice system created a place in which no action is monitored. This resulted in the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Colombians. What is often overlooked is Colombia’s affect on foreign countries and the spread of its corruption to other places. Colombia’s domestic issues are also responsible for the deaths of thousands of people in other countries, who suffered in the wake of irresponsible decisions.

However, due to the danger of reporting in Colombia, few foreign publications are interested in reporting from inside. Colombia’s issues have affected many countries, including the United Kingdom, United States, and many neighboring countries in South America like Brazil or Panama. These countries regularly report on Colombia, and prioritize Colombia’s peace talks in their foreign news coverage. But, roughly half of the stories are wire stories, while the other half are stories that use aggregate reporting. The reporters find other news stories’ coverage of an issue, and compile that into one news story for their publication. I’ve noticed many of these reporters will also use media from domestic sources, like videos and photos from local Colombian publications. With aggregate reporting so popular, many stories are written by staff reporters, and few are from freelance writers.

Foreign aid? Foreign coverage

The reason the US and UK have an interest in reporting on Colombia is because of their commitment to giving aid to Colombia. Both have invested money and time in helping Colombia solve its corruption and violence issues. However, over the past decade the UK has slowly evaporated its aid plans for Colombia. But, the US is still investing millions of dollars toward aid, with Obama adding a new component to “Plan Colombia” already this year. Colombia’s foreign aid plans were originally born in the US in 1998, and have aimed to helped Colombia decrease drug trafficking and violence rates since.

But, Plan Colombia has problems of its own. During its fifteen years of activity, Plan Colombia hasn’t consistently kept coca cultivation rates down. Some years increased in overall production rates.


Despite the questionable efficacy of the plan, US news outlets don’t suggest there’s any issues with the aid plan’s progress. Many media outlets write stories about the triumphs in Colombia, such as a cocaine seizure or progress with the peace talks. It is unlikely to come across a story indicating the problems that are still in Colombia.

What else is covered?

However, many US publications covered a tragedy that happened last week in Colombia. Three Colombian journalists went missing, and are expected to be kidnapped by the E.L.N. rebel group. It’s clear that US publications may be more willing to cover violence against journalists in Colombia opposed to other issues because of personal dispositions and agendas.

And, in the past decade both US and British outlets have glamorized Colombian drug trafficking issues. Many of the major news outlets, including BBC, CNN and NY Times, have written a feature on the cocaine trafficking issues. Many of the stories include multimedia elements, including reporters recording themselves on-the-scene, or photo slideshows of coca farms or camps. These stories are popular  because cocaine is huge in those cultures. Cocaine is a worldwide affair, and many readers find interest in the topic one way or another. Whether its your uncle’s favorite poison, or the appeal of the unknown, Colombia’s cocaine trafficking is a hot topic around the world.

Here is an example of a video that showcases the guerrilla camps in a flamboyant way. The video makes the guerrillas seem like show animals, and portrays their lifestyle as movie-like.

These larger issues fill most of the news spots in foreign publications’ coverage of Colombia. It’s rare to see a story about something other than Colombia’s civil war, drug issues, Zika virus or corruption. However, I’ve noticed many stories about Colombian soccer teams and games. This year, President Santos removed the sales tax for tourists, hoping to attract more visitors to the country. Stories that are entertainment based, like soccer, are from Colombia’s efforts to change foreign perception of Colombia. Many local outlets are reporting about arts and entertainment, showing foreign media who primarily aggregate stories about Colombia that those are the most important stories right now. And, with the peace talks underway with rebel groups, the country’s violent rebel activities have slowed down, making it difficult to report on more serious topics.

Latin American countries

Countries surrounding Colombia in South America occasionally report about Colombia because of overlap in the content. Many neighboring countries have similar issues, like impunity and drug trading. And, many of the people involved with these issues are connected. For example, here’s a story about a money launderer from Panama that was arrested in Colombia. It’s common to see people heavily involved in the drug trade work in multiple Latin American countries.

‘Money-launderer’ Nidal Waked arrested in Colombia

What about this week?


the guardian, people asking for the release of journalist Salud Hernandez.

This week, BBC wrote a story about the media in Colombia, presenting numbers and facts about the different media used. The story began by explaining that Colombia has a self-censorship problem due to prominent danger and violence. It goes on to explain the popularity of different outlets and mediums. I found this interesting because it was published roughly a week after three journalists went missing in Colombia. What’s curious is that the story doesn’t mention the three missing journalists, it only mentions that Colombia is generally dangerous. Perhaps the reason this story is prevalent is because of the missing journalists, but why didn’t it mention them? If the story had mentioned the three journalists, it may have received more views, especially from those who are trying to find out more information about the missing people. It doesn’t make sense, which means there must be a piece of the puzzle that we’re missing.

Publications in the United States covered the missing journalists’ journey, including stories about the initial kidnappings and their returns to safety. With the US devoting much of their money to Colombia and its recovery, Americans want to see that their tax dollars are being used to the fullest. Without US coverage of Colombia, Americans would be in the dark about Plan Colombia and what their tax dollars are being used for.






Party powder proves immortal

Roughly 4 percent of the world’s population has used cocaine, and some 50 percent of that cocaine came from Colombia. The coca plant is one of Colombia’s top crops, and has been used for several decades in funding the F.A.R.C. and other rebel groups.  Colombia’s weak justice system laid the perfect landscape for many decades of illegal coca cultivation, but created a dangerous field for journalists. Media professionals who seek to report the controversy are put at risk for kidnapping, assault or murder.


source: TIME

Cultivation of the coca plant became popular in Colombia by the 1990s, and Colombia quickly became the leading grower of coca leaves. By 2000, Colombia was the top producer of the world’s cocaine.

Cocaine trafficking became popular worldwide, sending drug problems to other nations. Since the 1980s, the United States has put effort toward reducing the production of coca in Colombia. But, in 1999, Colombia and the United States created a joined strategy to end organized crime and drug trafficking, called Plan Colombia.

Plan Colombia has helped decrease coca cultivation, but has not stopped it. Below is a chart displaying coca cultivation amounts within the past several years. Overall, cultivation has decreased, but some years prove to be better than others.

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Today, the Sinaloa cartel is the largest drug organization and exports more than a third of the cocaine produced in Colombia. The cartel is involved in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

“It supplies 80 percent of the heroin, cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine — with a street value of $3 billion — that floods the Chicago region each year,”

– DEA, 2013

But, with the peace talks currently underway, F.A.R.C. activities have been slowly dwindling. A future compromise with the Colombian government could mean a bigger decrease in coca cultivation in the near future.

Reporting from the ring

Colombia has a national history of corruption and a weak justice system. For the past half of a century, Colombia has been in civil war with rebel groups advocating for communist ideologies. These rebel groups have proven their strength through rapid growth in military force, being responsible for the deaths and kidnappings of thousands of people. Their funds come directly from cocaine trafficking and robberies.

With no punishment or justice, Colombia’s land is a free-for-all for anyone with an agenda. Instead of using the justice system, Colombians take matters into their own hands if there’s an issue. When it comes to news reporting about the drug trafficking issues, journalists are forced to report on some of the most powerful and dangerous groups in the world.

Maria Jimena Duzan is a columnist for El Espectador who covered the Colombian drug beat. After enduring the danger of the job, Duzan wrote a nonfiction book about what it was like reporting on the drug organizations. She recounts the time when her apartment was bombed by drug lords, as well as her newspaper building. Her documentary filmmaking partner and best friend was also murdered. However, she produced valuable investigative reports on the drug organizations through her perseverance.

Duzan’s book, beyond personal tales, is commentary on the nature of journalism in Colombia. Those assigned to controversial beats will step on other people’s toes. Colombian journalists must be prepared for the consequences of their stories, and strong enough to handle what comes.


packages of cocaine from Colombia, from

And, what about the rest of the world?

Colombia isn’t selfish with its cocaine. The country has proven to be a kingpin for the rest of the world, steadily supplying more than half the world’s cocaine for the past several years.

The United States has given millions of dollars since the 1980s to eradicate coca production, working together with Colombia to solve the issue. United States government wants to stop drug trafficking, but United States citizens want their money spent wisely. The majority of news reports about drug trafficking from US publications talk about successful drug seizures. If most stories talk about successes of Plan Colombia, what about reports on the issues?

Statistics are showing that Plan Colombia could have steadier progress at reducing coca cultivation. With the US reporting only about the successes of the plan, no conversation is happening about how to improve it. Unfortunately, the citizens are paying for Plan Colombia, yet can’t be aware of the true extent of its progress by consuming news. To find the real story, US citizens would need to further research and explore data.

The government and many US citizens alike both want a better future for Colombia and the drug issues. However, appeasing citizens by writing solely positive stories has a bigger negative outcome in the end. Perhaps it will take longer to solve Colombia’s drug problem with US citizens unaware of Plan Colombia’s real progress.

Other countries have different strategies for covering the Colombian drug conflicts. Some foreign publications are discussing the trafficking from an ethical standpoint, considering the many waves of consequences that come from drug trading. Metro, a news station in the UK, published a story today saying that cocaine use has tripled there in the past decade. The article says many consumers don’t consider the story behind their “party powder,” and the many people that died or suffered during the production.

Even after many weeks of studying journalism and Colombia, this article brought a new perspective to the way I see the drug trade world. Perhaps coverage that shows the consequences of drug trafficking, like this, is better in eradicating coca cultivation in Colombia.


coca cultivation base in Colombia, from

What else is in the news?

This week, two Colombian journalists who were covering a case of another missing journalist both went missing. President Santos dispatched investigative groups to track down the three missing journalists, and the nation’s anti-kidnapping unit is on the ground. The article says that Santos believes the E.L.N. rebel group is responsible for the kidnappings.

This article is indicative of changes in government action. Impunity is a longstanding issue in Colombia, and many get away with crime. It’s new yet uplifting to see the government take serious action toward kidnappings of journalists — which has not always happened in the past. It’s also interesting to see journalists write a transparent story that openly accuses the E.L.N. of the kidnappings. If I were a journalist in Colombia, I would not publicly accuse the rebel groups of kidnappings before it was confirmed. An action like that would earn a huge target on my forehead. Perhaps with President Santos taking immediate actions, journalists now feel shielded from the violence of rebel groups. However, it’s impossible to deny the danger that is still around Colombia for journalists.

There is no easy answer to the correct way on covering drug trafficking in Colombia. Writing a transparent story is dangerous for those in Colombia, yet writing a biased story does no good in helping Colombia’s situation. Despite the mystery of the future, it’s impossible to deny the bravery  and perseverance of past Colombian journalists. Without their news reports, the rest of the world would be naive to the issues Colombia holds and their worldwide consequences.



Freedom is more than legislation


Discussing freedom of the press in Colombia is more than a conversation about laws in place. The media’s ability to freely communicate is controlled by the ongoing civil conflicts between rebel groups and the government. These conflicts have made for a weak central government with little repercussions given to those who break the law.  Journalists  suffer threats, kidnappings and murders trying to report in a country where impunity runs rampant.

What are the rules?

The 1991 Constitution gives citizens the right to freedom of expression, information and communications. Defamation is still a criminal offense.

Journalists have also been facing lawsuits related to coverage of sensitive topics in the past 50 years. Those who cover crime, corruption and war are often watched. The fear of being involved in a lawsuit keeps journalists from writing risky stories, as many do not have the money or resources to fight in court.

But, those who do not like a journalist’s work usually take matters into their own hands.

In the past two decades, more than 200 journalists have been killed, and even higher amounts have been kidnapped or forced into exile due to activity during the civil conflicts. The inception of paramilitary groups during the conflicts led to free speech deteriorating in Colombia. Those who do not agree with their ideologies were at risk of being killed. This affected the lives of many journalists and stifled free speech amongst all Colombians.


FARC’s top commanders,

In Colombia Reports’ interview with W Radio, Catalina Botero said the reason journalists don’t have freedom in Colombia is due to the government’s threats and spying.

“It is difficult to to say that there is freedom of expression in a country where the state intelligence agency has a few officials who systematically conduct espionage, stigmatization, and issue death threats against the people who are performing the heroic labor of informing the public what is going on in the country.”

-Catalina Botero, special reporter for freedom of expression at The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

A spokesperson during the interview recalled an incident in which a journalist received a threat saying that they were going to kill her daughter, saying the situation was “chilling.”

As a result, many journalists have avoided covering topics like illegal mining, drug trafficking and corruption.

After speaking with more than 300 reporters in the last year about their experiences, Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) concluded…

“it’s evident that there is a lot fear in the local media, where many prefer to remain silent than run the risk of violence.”

However, some journalists haven’t given up so easily. Editor in chief of El Tiempo, one of Colombia’s most popular newspapers, has received threats from the government in the past. He has provided protected vehicles for his family and top staff to travel in for extra safety.

Additionally, many organizations have been created to fight violence against journalists, like the CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists). These organizations advocate for journalist safety and provide protection. Private investigators are also available for hire to locate missing journalists.

Has there been progress?

Freedom House dubbed Colombia as a “partly free” country in 2015, as the legislation allows for free speech, but little has been done to enforce the law.

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But, in 2014 President Juan Manuel Santos signed a law requiring the publicity of official acts and documents, called the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information. The law resembles the United States Public Record Act, which gives access to public records in a timely manner. This has helped the government become more transparent and accountable with its actions.

This new legislation is in light of the current peace talks that are underway between the rebel groups and the government. For the past few years, the two sides have been negotiating an ending to the civil war.

An impending end to the half a century long violence means that guerrillas and paramilitary groups have been less violent.

“The recovery of the monopoly of force by the state and the weakening of organized armed groups outside the law, has meant that journalists have a new environment that facilitates the free exercise of their profession and the expression of opinion.”

-The Colombian ambassador to the Organization of American States

Today, the peace talks are in the final stages, and violence against journalists is slowly dwindling. With the development of a stronger central government, the lives of many future journalists could be saved.

What about today?

It’s evident through news coverage that Colombia is making efforts to move past the civil conflicts. Not only are journalists avoiding covering the conflicts, they are choosing to cover topics that apply to tourists. The front page of the City Paper Bogota today is covered with mostly stories about Colombia’s culture. Some of the topics include an art gallery,, removal of tourism taxes, and airline additions. There is only one story about the conflicts, and it reflects positively on Colombia.

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Colombia Reports also reported one time about the conflicts this week. Both publications wrote about the F.A.R.C. and government’s agreement to release soldiers that are under the age of 15. The story goes on to discuss how the children will be readmitted to society, mentioning that the F.A.R.C. has wanted to release the children for some time. This story has nothing but optimism for the future of conflicts, which is a reflection of Colombia’s efforts to change their reputation. With so many years of reporting on terror from the conflicts, positive stories such as this one help Colombia’s foreign reputation.

The lack of reports about conflict reflects the fear of reporting on conflict. Perhaps with the dwindling of issues with rebel groups, journalists find it less pertinent to write riskier stories. With fewer stories to be written about the conflicts, reporters are playing eenie-meanie-minie-mo to decide who reports on them.





The Price of Truth

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On December 17, 1986, Guillermo Cano, the editor of Colombia’s oldest newspaper El Espectador, was murdered as he was leaving work. Three years later, a Medellin cartel bomb blew up El Espectador’s Bogota’s offices. That was a final retaliation against the newspapers’ consistent reports about drug gangs and trafficking.

With more than 47 journalists assassinated in the country since 1977, Colombia is historically the most dangerous country for journalists. Its longstanding civil conflicts between rebel guerrilla groups and the government have created a country with a weak judicial system and habitual impunity problems. This has left journalists in the crossfire of conflict, both literally and figuratively. Today, peace talks between the government and rebel groups have helped dissolve issues of violence against journalists, but not enough has changed to make journalists feel safe.


  • Why so much conflict?

Since winning independence in 1810, Colombia has suffered through a lack of national cohesion that is still a problem today. With natural geography that divides the land and distinct social classes, Colombia has individual and separated territories that have made it difficult for the government to exercise control. In the 1960s, the assassination of popular liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán Ayala was the springboard for conflicts between liberals and conservatives. Numbers of peasants advocating for communist ideologies organized themselves into radical advocacy groups.

By the 1970s, there were about a dozen guerrilla groups. Today, the two most prevalent groups are the E.L.N. and F.A.R.C. The growth of left-wing guerrilla groups prompted the formation of right-winged paramilitary groups. These groups work to protect Colombians from the guerrilla groups’ activities. Since the beginning of the conflicts some half a century ago, more than 50,000 lives have been lost. The guerrilla groups fund their activities through kidnappings, robberies, heavy drug trafficking and murder. However, the paramilitary groups have also been involved in similar criminal activity.

With journalists inherently committed to relaying the truth, Colombian reporters have been caught in the crossfire of these internal conflicts. When a journalist writes an unfavorable story about one side or the other, a target is immediately put on their head. Such a toxic environment has deeply affected the way journalism is done in Colombia.

It’s common for Colombian journalists to receive threats or immediate attacks for the stories they publish. And, attacks are coming from both the rebel groups and paramilitary groups. With strong conflicts of interest, journalists reporting on corruption are not popular. Below is a chart from the Committee to Protect Journalists that shows the different beats journalists were covering when they were murdered.

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source: Committee to Protect Journalists

However, the number of attacks could have decreased if there were a strong judicial system in Colombia. A large problem for journalists is impunity. Only 5 percent of journalist murders received full justice. With a lack of punishment in Colombia, journalists are left to defend themselves without the help from the government. Below is a chart displaying the impunity rates.

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source: Committee to Protect Journalists

  • Profile: Francisco Santos 

Francisco Santos was editor of El Tiempo, one of Colombia’s largest newspapers. In 2000, he fled the country after being threatened by the F.A.R.C. rebel group. Prior to that, he was kidnapped for eight months with 10 other journalists by Pablo Escobar.

Before leaving Colombia, Santos was denied life insurance because of his career as a journalist. With high murder rates amongst journalists, insurance companies aren’t willing to take the risk.


In an interview with AJ+ in 2002, Santos said that one of the biggest issues journalists in Colombia face is self-censorship. Journalists are faced with decision-making when it comes to reporting about the country’s conflicts. Journalists have to be ready to face the consequences of their work, says Santos.

However, Santos says that journalists often write biased stories that appear lopsided. These stories are received differently by different groups of people. Instead of writing a letter to the editor, most people take issues into their own hands. That’s when threats and violence become popular ways of managing the press.

Today, Santos lives in Spain and is a journalist for the daily newspaper, El Pais.

  • Where to avoid

Certain cities in Colombia have more criminal activity than others. Before reporting in Colombia, it’s a good idea to investigate which cities have high incidence of violence and crime. Below is a map that displays criminal activity by category over a 30-day period in 2013. This map gives an idea as to the types of crime that are most prevalent, as well as the cities that have the highest incidents. For example, there were 68 incidents of land mine explosions during the time period.

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source: OCHA

Additionally, some cities are more notorious for violence than others. Below is a list from the OCHA that ranks cities in Colombia from most violent to least violent, with population factored in.

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source: OCHA

  • What about today?

With peace talks in Havana underway between the rebel groups and the government, there has been a decrease in attacks on journalists. In an AJ+ interview with Daniel Suárez Pérez, an investigative reporter, Pérez explains that the country is dangerous for anyone that wants to an express an opinion. Since the conflicts involve armed military groups, anyone that investigates corruption can expect threats and intimidation to follow, says Pérez.

And, with the emergence of technology like social media and smartphones, it’s becoming easier for anyone to express their opinion.

According to a study from Consejo de Redacción, there are roughly 750 online media organizations in Colombia today. And, the threats have followed journalists to their online presence. Cyber attacks are now an issue for Colombian journalists.

There have been six reported major attacks against online media outlets in Colombia since 2014. Additionally, there have been 15 fake social media accounts intended to defame journalists that have been reported.

The issue is that Colombian journalists are fully entering the digital world, but are doing so without necessary online security or protection tools.

Below is a chart from the International Journalists’ Network that displays the use of encryption and protection tools amongst Colombian journalists. The chart shows the amount of journalists who are using NONE of the method listed. These high rates are indicative of the weak security of online journalism. With a shift into the digital world, journalists will need to adjust how they address threats and intimidations, perhaps beginning with an increase of online security.
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  • What about an American girl in Colombia?


Before I think about traveling to Colombia as a journalist, I need to consider who I am in relationship with the country and its culture.

One of the key things that I need to consider is the fact that I’m an American, and America and Colombia have an international-aid relationship. Obama has set aside millions of dollars to assist Colombia in eradicating the rebel conflicts and drug trafficking. However, inside of Colombia, this plan may not be popular with everyone. When in Colombia, I would be careful about reporting and discussing America’s foreign aid, as someone next to me may be a coca farmer, or a F.A.R.C. affiliate. Inside of America, we see ourselves as heroes to Colombia, but many Colombians do not see us the same way.

Foreign journalists reporting in the country will need to set aside their personal demographics in the same way. No matter where you’re from, anyone who publicly expresses opinion in Colombia is watched. The key to safety in Colombia is understanding that your work will have consequences. With the country heavily divided in opinions and people, it’s difficult to not step on any toes. But, journalists must deal head-on with the consequences of their work, and not expect any assistance from the law.

Since the country’s problems are rooted in weak government and differing ideologies, matters such as religion are not as taboo in the media. Roughly 75 percent of Colombia’s population are Catholics. As a person who isn’t religious, I would come to Colombia internalizing basic notions of Catholicism, understanding that most of the people who live there believe in God and live in accordance with the Holy Bible.

Fortunately, standing out in Colombia as a white person is almost welcomed. With the removal of the 16 percent sales tax for tourists, the president is pushing to increase tourism. And, with the dwindling of civil conflicts, president Santos is hoping to change foreign perception of Colombia to a more positive one. Coming to Colombia, it would be a good idea to do reporting on items other than corruption, such as tourism, arts, technology or health. This would help my popularity and safety as a journalist.

However, light-hearted items can’t be the be-all and end-all of Colombian journalism. With corruption so prevalent of an issue, journalists need to be able to take the risk of reporting the truth. Coming to Colombia to report about the corruption and conflicts, I would need to make connections within the journalism community. There are many organizations and private investigators in Colombia that work to protect journalists, and my first plan of action would be to locate these services. The last thing I want to be in Colombia is alone with such high rates of impunity.

After establishing a strong social network and getting a firm grasp on the safety situation of the city, I feel that it is necessary to take risks in reporting Colombian conflicts. With so many opinions and ties to history, it’s important that objective reporting is done. Hopefully, with the power of the truth and strong journalism, a safe and stable answer to the Colombian civil conflicts will come.

  • What’s new this week?

    News coming from Colombia this week indicates efforts to change public perception of the country. With an impending end to the civil conflicts, Colombian government and media are changing the topics of the news. The media this past year has been filled with talk of the civil conflict and hopeful resolution with the F.A.R.C. and E.L.N. groups. However, since the peace talks have began in January, there’s been a decrease in stories about the conflict. Instead, internal media are reporting stories that make Colombia seem developed and cohesive as a society. Many stories are being written about arts, sports and technology.


    source: CNN

    This week, The City Paper Bogota’s front page featured a story about an environmental day dedicated to using bags that aren’t plastic. There are quotes from President Santos in the story that point to Colombia’s attention to environmental matters. This seems to be a strategic public relations move. Featuring environmental matters in Colombia’s largest-circulating English newspaper is a convenient way for tourists to see the environmental progress of the country. This is more welcomed by tourists than infamous stories about drug trafficking and corruption that have historically come from Colombia.

    The only story in the The City Paper Bogota that talks about the conflict is a story about Ecuador holding the peace talks. On April 16, Ecuador suffered a devastating earthquake that killed 650 people, the story says. However, despite the chaos, Ecuador will still be holding the peace talks for the Colombian government and E.L.N. The story focused more on thanking Ecuador for their help than the talk itself. This shows that Colombia is dedicated to maintaining positive foreign relationships. By publicly thanking Ecuador through one of the country’s largest papers, Colombia strengthens its relationship with Ecuador. And, attention is diverted away from the conflict itself. Writing a positive story about the conflicts as opposed to a negative one helps Colombia seem like its growing as a country.

    Perhaps once the government and rebel groups are closer to a resolution, more stories will be published about the conflict. However, there’s no doubt that the country’s efforts to help its foreign perception won’t subside in the near future.

  • sources:

View story at



Reporting, Uncovered


Colombia is far from dry of newsworthy stories. For the past half-century, the media has been blessed with plentiful to report given the intense F.A.R.C. rebel conflicts that are still being resolved today. Colombia’s own media has tip-toed around sensitive topics with fear of losing their careers — or lives. With almost 50 journalists murdered for job-related reasons, the reporting coming from within Colombia is not always the most full and accurate. But, foreign publications have helped pick up some pieces that were left out. Details that are not available in Colombian publications are sometimes in external sources and can help produce a more complete package of information.

And, both internal and external publications tend to write stories about Colombia’s conflicts. Reporting of triumphs in Colombia is rare. The hot issues on the menu for this month (and most likely for the next months) are: resolving the civil conflicts, the spreading Zika virus, and cocaine trafficking.

How Zika spreads… (And the news about it)


The Zika virus is prevalent and has been spreading within Colombia since October of last year. US authorities confirmed earlier this month that Zika does cause mircocephaly and numerous other birth defects. Caribbean News Now!, a Latin American publication that covers countries in the Caribbean like Colombia, has been covering the Zika outbreak since the beginning of this year. On January 18, they published a story headlined “US issues travel alert over Zika virus in Caribbean.” The story’s headline does well in encompassing the heart of the story, as that’s the story’s main point. Besides stating that it’s not a good idea to travel to these places, the story includes a rudimentary back-history of Zika outbreak, like where it was first reported. The other point the story offers is that it is linked to birth defects. There’s no sources or quotations in the story.

Caribbean News Now! released another Zika story a month after this one, titled “Zika virus may be more easily transmitted than thought.” This headline, at least, isn’t identical to its lead- like the last story. But, the story is that Zika is sexually transmitted as well as through mosquito bites. After stating that in the lead, the rest of the story is history of the Zika virus and a case study. At the end of the story is a subheading titled “implications,” that advises readers to use safe sex or abstinence to avoid transmission. This story also lacks quotations. Similar to a WedMD article, the story briefly explores symptoms of Zika, and deep history including the first recorded Zika case ever. Completely off topic from the lead, the story lacks more exploration of preventing the disease. As a reader, I’m more interested in hearing about how to avoid getting the disease than cases of Zika in the rhesus monkey.

In comparison, the Brazil Sun print newspaper released a story today about the Zika epidemic in Colombia. As an external source, I expected the coverage of Zika to be different than Caribbean News Now! But, the two publications wrote stories that are similar in content and structure. Brazil Sun’s story is titled “Nearly 72,000 cases of Zika in Colombia since October.” The headline presents a shocking statistic, creating a dramatic effect for the reader. This made me want to read more of the story, but none of the information in the story is different than Caribbean News Now!’s story. Every paragraph is a few sentences with different statistics about cases reported. Similar to the internal news coverage, there are no sources or quotations. What’s interesting is that through all of these big numbers, the story reiterates that government says the epidemic is “dropping precipitously” for the time.


Nets are placed over beds to keep the mosquitos away.

NPR‘s report of the Zika outbreak in Colombia is strikingly different than the internal report and the report from Brazil. NPR explains the conflict between Venezuela and Colombia, and how they’re making the outbreak increase. Those who are sick in Venezuela with Zika are unable to find necessary medical attention, and are coming to Colombia to find treatment. Currently there are 37,000 people sick in Colombia. In Venezuela, there are only 5,000.

“We know Venezuela is full of Zika right now and a lot of people who are sick in Venezuela are coming to Colombia,”

-Juan Bittar, Head of State Health Department, Colombia

NPR’s report presents an unbiased perspective of the Zika crisis, presenting multiple sides and information. It also is more personal reporting. The story includes a quote from a pregnant mother who’s concerned about the virus. You can’t find anything personal in the Colombia or Brazil report. As Brazil and Colombia are countries currently being affected by Zika, perhaps the reporting shouldn’t be personal — because it already is. As a Colombian, I wouldn’t want to necessarily read about specific stories coming from mothers themselves about their Zika case. Since it would be in my own backyard, perhaps the tragedy would be too realistic if I had to experience it and read about it in my own newspaper. At first I was skeptical about the rigid and shallow reporting from the other publications, thinking that it lacked personality and purpose. But, perhaps if Zika were to break out in the United States, I would want more statistics in reporting than personality. The publications all cater to their audiences’ diverse needs. NPR audiences are searching for a personal story to get lost listening to. But, in a Zika-infested country, I wouldn’t want to hear a soap opera about a Zika case — I’d only need to look in my own neighborhood.

Colo… I mean- Cocaine Conflicts


Colombian conflicts or cocaine conflicts? Pretty much the same thing. The rebel conflicts in Colombia were the catalyst for massive drug trafficking. Your weird uncle’s blow probably came from Colombia, as some 90 percent of the world’s cocaine is grown and manufactured there. That’s how the rebel groups financed their activities, so in a way, your weird uncle is paying for the rebels to be active.

With peace talks in session with the rebel groups, eliminating coca cultivation has been an important menu item for the Colombian government. And, also a topic for many publications, both internal and external. Many external publications have written feature stories that sensationalize the cocaine conflicts. BBC News jumps on this train in their coverage of cocaine in Colombia. They released a story in 2011 that features a slideshow of a cocaine “megalab” that was recently found by Colombian police. Using a term like “megalab” embellishes the story, making it seem similar to a meth laboratory like in AMC’s Breaking Bad. In the photos, the “lab” doesn’t seem like a lab at all — there are no materials for chemistry. But, using the word “lab” made me more interested to see the photographs. Viewing the photos, there isn’t anything particularly shocking in them besides the massive amounts of cocaine.

File picture of Colombian Army Gen. Montoya examining a cocaine pack confiscated by troops near Puerto Asis

Within Colombia, publications aren’t afraid to report about the drug conflict. I expected publications to hold back in reporting the issue since drugs are controversial. But, since cocaine is deeply rooted in Colombian history and life, there are many different stories of different perspectives. Colombia Reports, an online publication in English, covers the different tactics government has used to eradicate coca cultivation. In the past, Colombian government has tried using a weed killer that has been linked to cause cancer. Colombia Reports released a story about the weed killer that didn’t appear biased in any way. The story does well in presenting sides in support of the weed killer and sides that are opposed. I respect this published story a great deal, and admire its commitment to valid journalism. It would be easy to avoid scary details of the weed killer, like not listing all of the different diseases it’s known to cause. But, the story commits to reporting it all.

The City Paper Bogota published a story in March, headlined, “Coca cultivation skyrockets in Colombia according to new data.” This story, along with the other stories in the Bogota are similar to the stories in Colombia Reports in an unbiased nature. Included are quotes from those who are outraged by the new numbers, and words from those who understand why the issue is so expansive. With the coca being in their own backyard, its inspiring to see balanced reporting on an issue with personal ties to the reader. The government and media are transparent with plans for coca eradication, where many readers have family in the coca business.

Colombian publications have more diverse and balanced reporting on the drug trafficking issues and progress than external sources. Foreign publications like BBC News take the novelty of drug trafficking and expand upon the entertainment side of it, making it seem like a movie. Other reports coming from external sources deal with the seizure of cocaine shipments and the discovery of drug routes. But, the internal reports from Colombia are detailed and thoroughly explain the complications of the issue in a way that’s easy to digest. Although surprising to me, I’m inspired by the balanced internal reporting being done. I would expect more corrupt reporting coming from a country with corrupt government, but journalists are upholding a positive reputation for themselves in Colombia.



Superheroes: Rediscovered



Colombia’s long-standing history of weak national unity continues to affect the news trail journalists have left. For much of Colombia’s history, journalists within and outside of the country reported on the on-going rebel conflicts and drug trafficking. However, with an almost-end to the country’s 50 year civil conflict, the nature of journalists’ work has changed to reporting brighter topics.

In lieu of an impending resolution to the conflict with the F.A.R.C. rebel group, journalists have taken the responsibility of connecting and informing the public. But, they haven’t always reported objectively. Some journalism is influenced by politics and second-agendas of those reporting. Although perhaps not the most ethical, Colombian journalists have helped provide information to the public through controversy. Here are some prominent values that Colombian journalists hold:

  • An Extra Pair of Eyes:

    Historically, journalism has been one of the most dangerous careers to have in Colombia. With almost 50 journalists murdered since 1992 within Colombia, many journalists today have close ties with those who have suffered from violence.
    However, the country’s impunity problem doesn’t stop journalists from reporting.
    Ginna Morelo, an investigative reporter from El Meridiano de Córdoba formed an investigative network called “El Consejo de Redaccion” that eventually won state protection for the media six years ago. In the group, jo-



    urnalists collaborate on stories that are too dangerous to do alone. They also worked together with
    competitors on stories and investigation, and staged a news blackout to protest a killing.“What began with two journalists based in Bogotá snowballed into a national movement,” said Morelo (CJR, 2013), talking about the effects of her organization’s work.

    Morelo, along with many more Colombian journalists, says reporting the country’s news is more important than the potential dangers of the career.

  • Reporting Objectively… or not.

    With such an interest in finding national peace, it’s easy to expect that Colombian journalists would value reporting the truth. However, this isn’t always the case. Historically, many journalists in Colombia also have had political careers.

    “Colombia’s leading television networks and newspapers are run by members of long-standing political and economic elites. The Santo Domingo group, Colombia’s largest industrial conglomerate, owns the Caracol TV and radio networks as well as the El Espectador newspaper. The rival RCN TV and radio network is controlled by the Ardila Lulle beer empire. Other prime-time TV news shows and the weekly political magazine Semana are owned by family members of former presidents of the two traditional Conservative and Liberal parties that have held power for the last 150 years” -Elizabeth Dernbacher, Colombian journalist

    Read more:

    Though publications are free, they are closely involved with Colombia’s politics. Two more former presidents were also newspaper directors, Laureano Gómez of El Siglo (which has since deceased) and Eduardo Santos of El Tiempo, one of Colombia’s most popular newspapers.

    Perhaps even more dark than the way news is produced in Colombia is the inherent trust citizens have in the media. Colombia’s diverse geography created vastly separate regions with little communication. Thus, many publications are independent and localized. Many trust the media’s content without further exploration.

    But, the expansion of the Internet has opened the door for many publications to be online. Today, more Colombian publications are available online and are read across regions (

  • Journalism or Public Relations?
    Today is notably one of the first times in Colombian history that all of Colombia is working toward common goals – national peace and progress. Along with that includes mending of Colombia’s reputation with the rest of the world. Much of the news produced about Colombia in the past few decades has been about the rebel conflicts.

    In the United States, much of the reporting about Colombia in the past pertains to Obama’s “Plan Colombia” foreign aid efforts. In February, Obama pledged to increase Colombia’s foreign aid to more than $450 million, calling the new plan “Peace Colombia.” The aid is to help educate and reintegrate members of the rebel forces, as well as end the drug trafficking issues.

    With a large amount of the content being produced about Colombia’s negative happenings, an effort to change foreign perception is in motion.

    This month, the president eliminated the country’s 16 percent sales tax for tourists. In addition to a desire to increase tourism, Colombian journalists have a desire to augment their country’s reputation.

    Today, one of Colombia’s most popular newspapers is an English-language publication called The City Paper Bogota. The paper was founded in 2008, in a time when the government and rebel groups were organizing peace talks. In the paper’s about section, it claims to offer…

    “the best source for breaking news, travel tips and cultural insights into one of Latin America’s most beautiful and welcoming nations.”

    The paper invites those who aren’t familiar with Colombia’s culture to read it, and speaks to what would appeal to a tourist coming to the country. In the Bogota‘s November 2010 issue, the front page is covered with a story about a new salsa dancing show in the city of Cali. Other stories in the paper were about a new emerging top female chef, holidays in hospitals, baseball and jazz.

    In the addition to the Bogota, other English-language newspapers were created in Colombia in the past decade, including Colombia Reports and Caribbean News Now.

Becoming Vigilantes by Reputation

Colombia has an infamous history of violence against journalists. For many years, journalists would be murdered, kidnapped or tortured every few months in the country. Cesar Gaviria, Colombia’s president from 1990-1994, has many colleagues who have been murdered for political reasons, including his sister and three other presidency candidates. Gaviria credits journalists for their bravery.

“Journalists take all the risks. Many have been killed, but this country has not been intimidated.”

Since 1992, some 43 journalists have been murdered for reasons related to their work. However, only one journalist has been killed for those reasons since 2010, says CPJ.

The chief editor of El Tiempo, Colombia’s largest circulating newspaper, travels in an armored car. His name is Roberto Pombo, and he has armored transportation for his family and some of his prominent colleagues as well. He and his family are targets for assassination. To Pombo, this situation is an improvement from the past.


“If you compare the situation in Colombia now for journalists with what happened 10, 15, 20 years ago…everything changed. We work better, safely, now.”

Threats only mean Pombo’s journalism is successful. His paper circulates some 400,000 copies of Sunday broadsheet, with 250,000 copies on weekdays, and attracts 9 million unique visitors to the website each month.

What about foreign perception?

For much of Colombia’s history, the internal conflicts have been in the forefront of foreign news published about the country. With Colombia’s issues spreading across borders with heavy cocaine trafficking, many countries reported the stories out of necessity.Obama_Commutations.JPEG-030ef_c0-91-2174-1357_s400x233

In February, Obama created a revised plan called “Peace Colombia” that offered Colombia $450 million in foreign aid.

Here is a video from the New York Times that includes Obama’s speech about “Peace Colombia.” Much of the reporting about Colombia in the United States is similar to the video in content. Similarly, many reports glorify and celebrate the new foreign plan for Colombia, making the United States seem like a hero team to Colombia.

However, in the past few decades as peace talks began to surface, foreign reporting on Colombia shifted.

Less reporting is on conflict and more is now on tourism and entertainment, explain authors Michael LaRosa and German Mejia in a 2012 history of Colombia.

“Global media have shifted significantly in the way they cover Colombia. Stories focusing on tourism, restaurants, Colombian tennis stars, and positive reviews of literary works…suggest the US media’s perception of the Andean nation is evolving away from the myopic, one-dimensional view that marked earlier portrayals of the country.”

Aside from the foreign aid plans, much of the reporting about Colombia coming from the US is situated to help bring in tourism.

When searching through CNN’s articles published about Colombia, the majority of the headlines dealt with entertainment coming from Colombia. Here is a screenshot of some of the headlines first listed, two about soccer and one about Miss Colombia:

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With a resolution to the internal conflicts on the way and the president’s push for more tourism, it’s expected to see more reporting on light-hearted stories coming from Colombia.

News Stats: 

Historically, much of Colombia’s news historically has been local. Natural geography created separated regions that had little communication until the emergence of online reporting. Today, many Colombian publications are available online. Here are the different mediums:

  • Colombia has 24 daily newspapers.
  • There’s also a total of 60 television stations.
  • And, there’s 515 radio stations.

Colombia’s top newspapers and media are:

  1. El Tiempo 
  2. Minuto30
  3. Canal RCN 
  4. El Espectador
  5. Semana

What About Today?

This week, four different stories were published in The Guardian about Colombia’s “failed” war on drugs. Being responsible for supplying roughly 90 percent of the world’s cocaine, Colombia’s drug trafficking is deeply rooted in the country’s history and culture. Having published four stories about Colombian cocaine, I assumed The Guardian has a hidden interest in reporting extensively. But, the stories are all diverse in nature and present a new perspective on the issue. For example, one of the stories is an opinion piece about President Santos’ efforts in handling the issue, offering up a critical lens to Colombia’s actions. In contrast, one story was published from the perspective of a coca plant farmer in Colombia who has to destroy his crops. Perhaps if The Guardian hadn’t presented two or more stories with differing sides, the news coverage wouldn’t be balanced. This coverage of Colombia’s drug trafficking is an example of unbiased reporting that I strive to have.

For more insight on Colombia’s drug war, check out one of the stories here. Below is a chart that shows the correlation between eradicated coca plants and harvested ones in the past years. Recently, much more cultivation is being done than removal of the crops.

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However, Colombian publications this week have not been as ethical as The Guardian. The infamous Zika virus caused its first cases of microcephaly in Colombia this week. The City Paper Bogota, one of Colombia’s largest English publications, didn’t report the story until two days after American publications did like The L.A. Times. In the local Colombian publication, the headline reads “Zika numbers down in Colombia but infectiousness concerns.” This headline doesn’t convey the urgency of the news. In fact, it covers up the depths images-5of the situation by saying that Zika numbers are still down. This may be true, but it diverts the attention away from the news at hand – the incidence of microcephaly. In the L.A. Times’ report, the headline is more direct, saying “Zika virus: First cases of microcephaly reported in Colombia.” This headline is indicative of what the story is about, and doesn’t direct attention away from the negativity of the news. With a push to mend public perception of Colombia, it doesn’t surprise me to see minimal reporting on painful news and much more reporting on news that is easy to hear.





Cocaine, Crime and Conflicts – What’s Colombia’s Story?



Having faced over 50 years of civil war, Colombia has a history full of change and adjustment. Similar to other Latin American countries, Colombia developed into a segregated society in which there’s a divide between wealthy Spanish families and poor Colombians. This divide caused left-wing rebel groups in Colombia, the two main groups being the E.L.N. and F.A.R.C. Since the 1950s, the rebel groups have strengthened from peasant organizations into large militias responsible for the death of 220 thousand Colombians.


What is now Colombia was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples. This changed in 1499 when the Spanish arrived for a period of conquest and colonization, creating the Viceroyalty of New Granada, with its capital Bogotá. In 1819, independence was won from Spain, and Colombia and Panama became the Republic of New Granada. In 1886, the Republic of Colombia was officially declared, and Panama withdrew in 1903.

Between 1948 and 1958 was Colombia’s period of “La Violencia.” During this time, some peasants formed groups in support of communist ideologies. By the late 1970s, there were roughly a dozen guerrilla groups, the most popular still being the E.L.N. and F.A.R.C.

As a reaction, right-wing paramilitary groups formed to protect against the guerrilla activities and forces. Civil war has been in Colombia since.


Last month, the Colombian government and rebel groups were engaging in peace talks, hoping at last end the conflicts. They agreed to discuss four key topics, hoping to agree and make changes on land reform, political participation of rebels, drug trade and transitional justice for combatants.

Today, the talks are still underway. No final agreement has been made.


The rebel conflicts have influenced much of the history, culture and development of Colombia today. Tens of thousands of people have suffered in the wake of the rebel guerrillas and their activities.

The F.A.R.C. is supported by profits made from kidnappings, tax manipulations, threats, and drug trade. In the 1970s, the group began trafficking cocaine to fund its activities. The F.A.R.C. takes roughly $500 million to $600 million annually from drug trading, according to The F.A.R.C. supplies more than 50 percent of the world’s cocaine. Some 90 percent of America’s cocaine comes from Colombia (BBC 2013).

These conflicts and ongoing activities are a large result of Colombia’s weak central government. Colombia lacks state institutions throughout much of the country, and little government enforcement has ever existed.

One of Colombia’s respected academics and conflict analyst, Fernan Gonzalez, says that much of the social organization was left to colonists to decide.

“Since the beginning of the sixteenth century the most isolated and inaccessible territories were settled by marginalized groups. In these areas of peripheral colonization the organization of social relations was left to individuals and social groups, and the state lacked the monopoly on justice and the legitimate use of force.”


Colombia’s gap between the wealthy and poor is vast. Between 1990 and 2010, inequality in Colombia’s urban areas grew by 15 percent (Colombia Politics, 2013). Colombia’s economy is run by monopolies, where the rich have a firm grip on business that keeps lower classes out of their way.

Colombia had an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent in 2015 (Forbes, 2015). The United States had an unemployment rate of 5 percent that year.

With more than 50 million Colombians today, Colombia has a high literacy rate of 94.6 percent.

Given the lack of justice in Colombia, it’s surprising to see the government organized similarly to the United States’ government. Colombia has a representative democracy with a central government and three branches – executive, legislative, and judiciary.

But, this system isn’t effective for Colombia’s diverse population and geography. Ethnically, Colombia has a varied cultural heritage with its people descending from regions worldwide. The country’s landscape made for strong regional groups and identities, as land barriers prevented exploration.

Colombia has strong history with its neighboring countries, having been a territory with Panama in the 1800s. It shares borders with Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador and Peru. Colombia is situated on the northwestern side of South America.

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Up to two thirds of the world’s emeralds are produced in Colombia. In the 70s and 80s, a series of battles happened between emerald barons to establish power and turn away newcomers.


In 2013, the “Emerald Czar” Victor Carranza, one of Colombia’s most prominent emerald barons, was murdered. Carranza is said to have controlled 40 percent of the industry’s trade. Since his death, a series of attacks against members of the emerald industry have happened, as emerald barons are seeking new control of the sector.


Colombia’s history of internal conflicts has created a dangerous profession for journalists. With the lack of a strong central government, press and free speech are not protected by government regulations. This means that many crimes are committed against journalists in Colombia, from kidnappings to threats and murders. Additionally, the government fights against journalists who share information and stories that may put them in a negative light.

Vicky Davila, a Colombian radio journalist, resigned from her job earlier this year after receiving a gift from the government that she interpreted as a personal threat. Davila had been reporting on a male prostitution ring operated by the national police force. She also claims that the government had been spying on her. Davila is one of many journalists threatened for her work. Roughly 50 journalists total have been murdered in Colombia. The full story about Davila is available here.


Aside from the danger that comes with being a Colombian journalist, the media is also versatile for its diverse audience. The majority of Colombia’s news publications are in Spanish, but many are also available in English. Additionally, the local newspapers and publications were written for those who live in Colombia, whereas many of the online publications are friendly toward those unfamiliar with Colombia or its history. Many of these news stories include brief background history. Some newspapers also included news from surrounding countries, like Panama. This correlates with the president’s desire to increase tourism in Colombia. Last week, the president removed the 16 percent sales tax for all tourism related services. With the production of more news with background and history of Colombia, tourists can learn and access their stories.

The majority of the stories about Colombia in American publications are about the rebel conflicts and drug trafficking. Because of this, my impression of Colombia was that it was poor and underdeveloped. By reporting only the conflicts in Colombia, the media is giving readers a false perception of the country. I was surprised to find out that 94.6 of the population is literate, as I originally assumed the majority of the population is uneducated. Perhaps pairing negative stories with positive ones could help produce a more balanced perception of Colombia.


This week, the peace talks between the government and rebel groups are continuing, but with no resolution made yet. Currently, the F.A.R.C. has put a hold on negotiating until the government admits the existence of the far right paramilitary groups. Colombia Reports has produced multiple stories about the progress of the peace talks this week, each one building upon the last. However, American news publications are releasing fewer stories about the topic, but in more depth. The American stories include extensive history and background on the subject. It’s clear that American publications are writing for an audience that isn’t as familiar with the conflicts as Colombia is. Additionally, the reports being made from non-Colombian publications have a darker outlook on the subject. For example, LA Times’ story is titled, “Colombia peace talks miss goal and are likely to last for months.” However, Colombia Reports came out with a story today titled,”Colombia rebel leader ‘certain’ of success of peace talks with government.” The drastic dichotomy between the stories is leaving me confused about the current state of the peace talks.

All conflicts aside, the news this week showed some recent triumphs in Colombia. A new application is now available called “Seak,” made by Diego and Felipe Avila. Seak gathers marine life data through photos and GPS navigation from its users. The application is meant to be a learning tool to explore many of the unfamiliar and undiscovered ocean animals. Now available in the Apple Store, anyone with a mobile device can use Seak. But, the only online news stories about Seak are from Colombian publications. I found it interesting that, although marketed for a worldwide audience, Seak was only written about in Colombian publications. For comparison’s sake, I chose to research 2009 articles when Uber was first created. There were Colombian publications, as well as other publications worldwide, that wrote about the app’s creation. Uber was created and is headquartered in San Francisco, California, nowhere near Colombia. Perhaps publications have a tendency to look at America when they write stories about new technology.

However, other news from Colombia this week was published worldwide. This week, the highest court in Colombia approved same sex marriage in the conservative Roman Catholic Church. The story is in popular American publications like ABC and Vice, as well as publications from other countries. Many of the stories were similar in content and style, however, there some stories from the US that featured a celebrity’s reaction to the issue. I felt that this is representative of our culture and values. In America, we can make money writing about one well-known person’s opinion on a hot topic. Perhaps in Ghana the same story wouldn’t be as popular. It’s easy to see some of the values a country has by looking at what they choose to write about.

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