Integrating safety in media houses in Colombia

In 2016, IMS supported a project focused on improving the safety policies and mechanisms within Colombian media organisations for journalists on the ground, drawing on the proposed actions of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

At the time, Colombia’s long-term peace processes had culminated with the signing of a peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). It was a time of upheaval; the situation was fragile but the hope for a peaceful future was strong. Simultaneously, it was a risk-filled time for journalists with a 52.5 percent increase in cases of attacks, murders, kidnappings, threats, obstructions of work and sexual violence against journalists compared to the year before the peace deal.

Fruitful thoroughness

The Colombian organisation Fundación Para la Libertad de Prensa (Colombian Foundation for Press Freedom/FLIP) identified a gap in the current safety efforts for local journalists. Though many journalists on the ground received safety training, the organisations they worked for did not, and this discrepancy left media workers lacking key organisational support and mechanisms for protection.

With support from IMS’s Rapid Response Programme, FLIP initiated a new safety certification programme to support Colombian media organisations in developing an internal security policy for self-protection protocols and the reduction of risks for working journalists. In February 2017, FLIP invited media from nine regions to participate, and 17 directors of print, radio and television media, as well as of commercial, public, community and indigenous outlets, agreed to join the project. FLIP’s project-dedicated consultant then, in close collaboration with each media outlet, conducted a thorough risk assessment and helped produce tailored policies and protocols, fitting the needs and resources of the individual organisation.

A commitment to safety

After completing the programme, the project partners received a certificate – somewhat in the style of a Fairtrade stamp – to recognise the organisation’s commitment to keeping their staff safe and boosting its credibility. Seventy percent of the participants completed the programme, while a few decided to terminate due to lack of resources. Therefore, one lesson learned was that some outlets will need additional support to fulfil the programme demands, and that future projects should potentially include part of the budget to be designated for each media outlet to hire a person to develop part of the companies´ activities in regard to the project.

“This project was the first of its kind. It was the first time that Colombian civil society got together to build comprehensive, preventive capacities within newsrooms throughout the country. In the local context, the common idea was that the state was the sole responsible for the safety of journalists. At the same time, when the state failed in its obligations, journalists had to deal with managing the risk of being attacked by themselves. However, we put back in the conversation the necessity for media outlets to proactively contribute to the protection of their workers,” explains Sebastián Salamanca, a consultant for FLIP. “The project developed a methodology for outlets to develop safety policies that can be multiplied in other contexts. The media outlets that completed the certification are now safer spaces to practice journalism.”

Following the project, organisations that promote freedom of expression, as well as several international organisations and intergovernmental bodies, expressed great interest in exploring initiatives to implement similar projects in other parts of the world. FLIP is currently working to develop digital version of the programme that they hope to launch by January 2023.


The project was supported by Sida.


Key lessons from the IMS’ involvement in safety under the UN Plan of Action in Colombia:

  • Thorough analysis of the needs, challenges and gaps in the local context is crucial to tailoring useful, effective responses.
  • Partnering with local organisations who have the experience, expertise and network within the field is invaluable.
  • Developing solutions that match the individual needs and resources of organisations promotes a high completion and implementation rate.
  • Some organisations, particularly smaller ones, might need additional assistance due to lack of resources.
  • A certification can be an important incentive and driver for this type of process.