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Colombian Journalists Awarded Nieman Prize

By Michael P. Mann

Journalists covering drug trafficking in Colombia were honored at the Nieman Foundation yesterday for risking their lives to report the news.

Ann Marie Lipinski, a former Nieman Fellow and chair of the committee that awarded the 1990 Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, said that the reporters deserved recognition because of their courage in the face of death threats and bombings.

"Many reporters were considered for the award," said Lipinski. "But what distinguished this group was the persistence and bravery shown in the face of narco-terrorism."

Fernando Cano, a current Nieman Fellow and editor in chief of El Espectador, Colombia's largest newspaper, accepted the award on behalf of the Colombian journalists.

Lipinski said the award was presented to Cano because of El Espectador's enduring history of opposition to the Colombian drug lords.

"They've really been at the fore-front of all this," said Lipinski. "They really broke the story that the drug lords weren't acting alone, that they were being helped by some members of the Colombian army."

Cano said that narco-terrorists have killed nine of El Espectador's reporters since 1984, one of whom was his father. Cano himself was forced into exile in 1989 because of threats against his life.

"El Espectador has by far been one of the major victims," said Luis A. Moreno, a current Nieman Fellow and director of "TV Hoy," a Bogota news program. "They were very, very brave from way back."

In all of Colombia, more than 40 journalists have been murdered by the drug lords in the last ten years, Cano said. "More than 30,000 people have been killed, the judicial system paralyzed, and the populace scared," he added.

In his acceptance speech, Cano praised the tough anti-drug policies of the new Colombian government of President Virgilio Barco. But he said the most hopeful development was the change in attitude by the "consumer countries" of the West.

Calmer Environment

"They have finally recognized that their response must go beyond just saying `No,'" Cano said.

And although the situation in Bogota remains dangerous for journalists, Moreno said that the environment had become more calm recently.

"Colombia in the last two months has kind of quieted down, because of the change in government," Moreno said. "The drug dealers have backed down for the time being."

This year's recipient of the Lyons award was unusual for being an entire class of journalists, rather than a single reporter, Lipinski said.

Last year the award was won by an independent Polish journalist and organizer of the underground press. Other past recipients include Zwelekhe Sisulu, editor of New Nation of South Africa, and CBS correspondent Edward R. Murrow.

Founded in 1938, the Nieman Foundation awards fellowships to domestic and foreign journalists for a year of study at Harvard.

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