Journalism in Colombia | Globe Editorial

Reporting is not terrorism

July 16, 2010

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IN THE war on drugs, Colombia has been a close partner of the United States. But the Obama administration wrongly deferred to that government when it denied a student visa to Colombian TV producer Hollman Morris, who received a Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard.

The bureaucratic reason was that, like other independent journalists in his country, he has been accused of having terrorist associations. The Patriot Act bars foreigners suspected of terrorist ties from gaining entry to the United States. Of course, the accusations against Morris come from Colombian government officials unhappy about his efforts to report on the leftist guerrilla group known as the FARC.

The State Department should not deny a visa to someone as well-known as Morris without questioning the allegations against him. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch have said the charges that he has ties to the FARC are unsubstantiated. Outside the government of Colombia’s outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, Morris has a reputation for journalistic integrity and independence.

In contrast, Colombia’s intelligence agency and government officials have an ugly history of smearing as terrorist sympathizers journalists who report things the government does not want them to report. Journalists’ lives are endangered in this way, and some have subsequently been killed or injured. In Colombia, Morris, his wife, and daughter have to be protected by bodyguards.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should grant Morris a visa. Better yet, she could ask Colombia’s president-elect, Juan Manuel Santos, himself a former Nieman fellow, to clear the way for Morris by acknowledging in public that this critical journalist has nothing in common with terrorists.

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