Contravia: When Journalism Really Matters

This week I have had the honor to hear Colombian journalist Hollman Morris speak during his visit to Chicago. Morris is being honored by Human Rights Watch for his work on Contravia, a unique Colombian TV news magazine that covers the victims of the civil war. Morris said he conceived of Contravia, and longform journalism, when he realized that armed conflict could not be reported in customary 120 second soundbites.

From the introduction to an interview with Justin Podur in Znet:

As producer for CONTRAVIA, Hollman Morris gave visibility to the most marginalized voices of Colombian society, the peasants, the Afro-Colombians, the indigenous people, and their movements. He has demonstrated courage and integrity that puts most North American journalists, who work out of offices or, when they go to the field, hotels, to shame. In addition to awards, Morris’s work has earned him threats, including threats from the very President of Colombia.

Contravia is often forced into hiatus for lack of funds– it’s not a popular vehicle for advertising in Colombia, go figure. Thus, he speaks movingly of the importance of public broadcasting:

In 1998 there were two public channels that had daily debate programs in prime time and news and analysis from different perspectives. With privatization in 1999 things got steadily worse. Private television captured 90% of the audience. Now it’s reality shows and soap operas. That’s happening all over the world. But in the developed world, you usually have one solid public station: BBC in the UK is the best example. In Colombia there is only private television.

Morris makes our worries about the quality of online comments, participatory media and file-sharing seem utterly trivial.

I’m not interested in objectivity. I am interested in impartiality, but I believe my job is to defend life. Facing attacks on people’s lives one can’t be objective. They accuse me of that and much worse. A country where the president calls human rights defenders terrorists, there will be these sorts of accusations from various sectors. When a president accuses hundreds peasants of being terrorists, a program like ours that shows their intelligence, what they are building, their proposals for the future, will be attacked as ‘biased’. And a sector of society will even believe the accusations that we’re ‘terrorists’.

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