With an area of 1.14 million square kilometers, Colombia is the fourth largest country in Latin America. The population is 45 million. Geographical conditions impede the infrastructural development as well as the opening up of an efficient system of communication. For several decades, a violent conflict has been going on in Colombia. As a consequence of the peaceful disarming of more than 30,000 paramilitaries before April 2006, the situation became relatively quiet.
To replace the previous 1886 constitution, the foundation of all media law for over a century, a new constitution was ratified in 1991. The basis of Colombian press law is now Art. 20, which grants every human being the right to “express and spread freely his opinion, inform himself, and get true and unbiased information, as well as to found mass media.” All means of mass communication are free according to Art. 20, under a social responsibility concept of the media. There is no censorship.
Colombia can look back to more than 200 years of press history. The first newspaper was published in 1791. In the nineteenth century alone there were more than 1,000 newspapers that accompanied Colombia’s difficult path to the formation of a republic. Today about 35 daily papers are published in Colombia. Colombia’s most important daily paper is the one with the highest circulation: El Tiempo. It is liberal and read across the nation; the oldest and most famous liberal newspaper El Espectador from Bogotá (founded in 1887) has been published as a weekly only since 1997. The daily paper El Colombiano reports from Medellín, El País from Cali and El Heraldo from Barranquilla. All other newspapers have only a small regional or even local area of circulation.
The official introduction of broadcasting in Colombia was in 1929. Since the late 1950s, radio has become the most important mass medium with the largest spread and range. Law no. 72 dating from 1966 is still applicable, according to which the aim of broadcasting is “to spread and to support culture, to offer intelligent entertainment, and to strengthen the values of Colombian nationality” (Art. 22). According to Art. 75 of the Colombian constitution of 1991, ownership of all channels and administration of broadcast is a “public good.” The state is allowed to interfere in cases of monopolistic activities. In 1995, with decree no. 1456, broadcasting stations were classified into commercial stations (emisoras comerciales), stations run by communities (communitarias), and broadcasting stations of public interest (de interés público). Altogether there are 1,292 broadcasting stations in 603 communities. 656 stations are said to be commercial (= 51 percent), 469 are community-run (= 36 percent), and 167 (= 13 percent) are run by public institutions. Commercial stations use FM as well as powerful AM transmitters; advertising, music, and short news dominate their program. The community stations, mostly run by associations and local, agricultural, and political organizations, have only existed since 1997; they are exclusively of local importance. Stations of public interest, which are run by universities, schools, army, remote communities, native groups, and the government, also work only with FM transmitters. Of the 656 commercial stations, 341 (= 52 percent) are organized in six big station radio chains. 182 of these stations (= 54 percent) belong to the Caracol Radio group; Radio Cadena National assembles 75 (= 22 percent) and the chain Todelar 32 (= 9 percent) under their names.
Television in Colombia aired its first program in 1954. Founding the national Institute for Radio and Television Inravisión in 1963, Colombia chose to install a “mixed system” in the television sector. Unique in Latin America, government was on the one hand to participate in the television sector by owning, along with Inravisión, the channels and the technical means for broadcasting, while on the other hand it was to give licenses every four years to the private commercial TV companies by public invitation of tenders (licitationes). Moreover, Inravisión was responsible for the state-controlled radio station Radio Nacional and the channel for education Canal 3. Until 1991 only two commercially run television channels and one state channel existed. In the 1980s additional regional channels started in different parts of the country. The constitution of 1991 finally laid down fundamental changes for television by decisively turning its back on the “mixed system” in television policies. Art. 76 laid down the foundation of an independent commission, the Comisión Nacional de Television (CNTV), whose five members (two of which were chosen by the government) from then on were in charge of technical issues, the distribution of channels and television policies in general. This was the first step toward privatization of television in Colombia.
In 1998 CNTV gave direct concessions to private commercial television channels for the first time. The radio and television companies Caracol and Radio Cadena Nacional, being market leaders, each acquired their own television channel with national range. A third channel (Canal 1) was immediately opened for smaller private commercial companies. At present, six companies share program time on Canal 1. Apart from commercial channels, the state channel (Canal institucional, Canal 9) and the education channel (Señal Colombia Educativo y Cultural, Canal 3) are still on air. In different administrative regions of Colombia, six regional channels are broadcasting. In Bogotá, the private, strongly commercial Citi-TV with information on the capital has gained a name, working together with El Tiempo. Its local rival is the Canal Capital in Bogotá.
In 2004 Inravisión ran dramatically into debt and was dissolved and replaced by Radio Televisión Nacional de Colombia (RTVC), which has been in charge of all technical matters for broadcasting channels since 2004. CNTV controls the distribution of broadcasting time.
Six companies supply predominantly wealthy urban households with cable television. Television for subscribers, a kind of Pay-TV (televisión por suscripción), is available too. The channels Galaxy and Sky dominate the market for satellite television. The Internet was introduced in Colombia in the 1990s primarily by the universities. Meanwhile several providers offer their services and traditional media are using the new technology.
- Kusche, D. (1992). Massenmedien in Kolumbien. In J. Wilke (ed.), Massenmedien in Lateinamerika, vol. 1. Frankfurt: Vervuert, pp. 187–266.
- Kusche, D. (2002). Nationale Identität und Massenmedien in Kolumbien, 1900 –1930: Zum Beitrag der Presse im Prozess nationaler Identitätsbildung. Stuttgart: Heinz.
- Ministerio de Comunicaciones de Colombia (2004). Política para la radiodifusíon en Colombia. Serie de cuadernos de política sectorial, no. 3. Bogotá, Colombia.
- Botero, S. (1990). Periodismo diario en televisión. Medellín, Colombia: El Proprio Bolsillo.
- Fehrenbach, A. (2003). Das Internet in Kolumbien. In J. Wilke (ed.), Alte und neue Medien in Lateinamerika. Hamburg: Deutsches Übersee-Institut, pp. 243 –368.