The high rates of political and social violence in Colombia persist in having an impact on the members of the news media. In the last half-year, eight people linked to the press were murdered.
Most of these deaths remain unsolved and in half the cases it was not possible to establish if the killings were due to the victims' professional work.
Over the same period, nine journalists were kidnapped and later freed by leftist guerrillas in the rebels' ongoing bid to pressure the press.
A positive highlight is the decision of the Constitutional Court to revoke the so-called Journalists' Law. The measure, in effect since 1975, said only university graduates with a degree in communications could work as journalists.
Following in chronological order is a list of the main developments registered since the Midyear Meeting last March in Puerto Rico:
March 15: Unknown assailants slit the throat of journalist Jose Abel Salazar Serna, leaving him dead in his apartment in the city of Manizales. Salazar Serna produced cultural
radio programs for the Todelar radio program and also worked for the local interior ministry authorities.
Police provisionally ruled out that his death was linked to his journalism work. The motives for the crime remain unclear.
March 18: The Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that the law saying that journalists had to have a university degree in communications and hold a credential issued by the Education Ministry was unconstitutional. The judgment effectively overruled a 1975 law backed by journalists' unions and university communication departments. The court said that the 1975 law's restrictions on who could become a journalist were an assault on the freedom to inform and be informed.
March 27: The Prosecutor's Office imposed a measure to secure the bail of Juan Carlos Pastrana, editor of the defunct daily La Prensa. In 1995, the newspaper is alleged to have libeled a senator by linking him to drug trafficking.
April 2: The Supreme Court upheld a 16-year sentence imposed on Luis Carlos Molina Yepes for the Dec. 17. 1986 murder of El Espectador editor Guillermo Cano. Molina was a right-hand man for late Medellin cartel chieftain Pablo Escobar.
April 4: An ELN guerrilla commando group kidnapped nine journalists, including camera operators, from different news organizations as they were travelling in the Magdalena Medio region. Two days later, three journalists who searched for their colleagues were also abducted in the same area, but
this time by a paramilitary group, who destroyed their equipment and then let them go on their way.
The journalists in the hands of the leftist guerrillas were freed several days later with a communique addressed to the public at large in Colombia.
April 17: A gunman fired 10 shots at journalist Nestor Carvajal as he left a school where he also was a teacher in the southern town of Pitalito. Carvajal produced a news program at Radio Sur. Half a month later, the suspected hitman was arrested. But it is still unclear who was behind the killing.
May 19: A legal affairs reporter, Bernabe Cortes, was shot and killed in Cali where he worked for the CVN regional news program. The mayor of Cali posted a $50,000 reward for information related to the crime, which to this day remains unsolved.
June 18: A suitcase packed with four kilos of dynamite was found in the front yard of premises of El Tiempo in Medellin. Security guards notified the police bomb squad before the device exploded.
June 20: In a move supporting the freedom of information, the Supreme Court clarified the scope of legal measures concerning what information on court proceedings is to be made available. It ruled that all court papers shall be open to the public and journalists may have access to them even in lapsed
criminal cases. The court only exempted documents which infringe on privacy, sexual modesty and state security.
August 11: Reporter Amparo Jimenez Ballares was murdered by hitmen as she returned home from dropping her small daughter at school in the city of Valledupar. Jimenez, a prestigious TV reporter, was working on a program for the Mandate for Peace. In subsequent weeks two brothers - Libardo and Wilson Prada - were arrested as the suspected gunmen. The prosecutors in the case said those behind the murder were still unidentified but could be found within" armed groups at the margin of the law."
Aug. 28: Sports reporter Nelson Osorio Patino was killed with five shots in the western part of Bogota.
The authorities say the murder had nothing to do with his profeSSion, because Osorio Patino had financial ties to a known drug lord now in custody. None of Osorio's relatives wanted to talk about the crime.
September 12: Two gunmen on a motorcycle shot and killed Nestor Villar Jimenez, a journalist who lately had been active in local politicS.
In October, a tax reform bill that newly-elected President Andres Pastrana's administration sent to Congress and now under debate would make advertising in the print and broadcast media subject to a 15% tax.
October 15: Within a 24-hour period, two journalists were murdered: Saul Alcaraz in Medellin and Jose Arturo Guapacha in Cartago. Guapacha was editor of the weekiy El Panorama in Cartago. Alcaraz was a journalist at the Instituto Mi Rio and worked on a program to incorporate youth gangs and former urban guerrillas into civil life in Medellin.
October 21: In a preliminary ruling, the Communications Ministry issued an order to take Radio Caraeol off the air for three days because one of its announcers infringed the Electoral Law. The action is one of the most drastic ever taken against Colombian radio stations. The Communications Ministry
was expected to determine shortly whether to put its gag order into effect.