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Diario "El Espectador" and Diario "El Tiempo" from Colombia

Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities 1987

The Jury wishes thus to highlight the role of the media as spokesmen and defenders of the noblest demands of civil society.

El espectador newspaper

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Founded in 1887 by Fidel Cano Isaza in the city of Medellín, it is the oldest newspaper in Colombia, one of the oldest in America and the longest-standing in the history of the country. Since its foundation, El Espectador has stood out for its constant struggle in favour of civil liberties. It has taken a brave stand in recent years against Colombian drug trafficking.

Conceived of as a mean of defending the country and liberal beliefs, its efforts to do this led to its being closed by the government when it had been out for scarcely a month. After various attempts, in 1896, it managed to stay in publication regularly, maintaining its initial small page format, which it was to keep until 1913, when changed to large format.

In 1915, the head office of the newspaper moved to Bogota; four years later it wold become a nationally distributed newspaper. Fidel Cano died and was replaced by his son Luis, who remained at the head of the journal until 1949, when his retirement coincided with the censorship imposed on the press by the government of Mariano Ospina Pérez. Gabriel Cano relieved him in the post, facing the hard times of the dictatorship of General Rojas Pinilla, during which, on the 6th September 1952, El Espectador was taken by assault, sacked and set on fire. Although a few days later the newspaper came out again, from loaned premises, in 1956 the cast-iron dictatorial censorship left no alternative but to close, in the hope of better times.

In 1958, after the overthrow of the dictator and with the "Frente Nacional" on the move, reappeared as a morning newspaper. Six years later the newspaper bought a building, where a new press was installed and the current stage of the daily began to be forged. In the Seventies the Sunday edition was accompanied by a magazine-format supplement. At the beginning of the Eighties, Gabriel Cano died, but the family line of succession was maintained in Guillermo Cano Isaza, who took over the running of the paper. With the change of director a fight without quarter began against the "Gran Colombiano" group, an important financial empire, which El Espectador accused of "doubtful handling" of the savers´ money. This campaign led to severe business pressures, which meant a reduction in advertising in the newspaper. This process was known as the "economic pincer against the press". In 1984 El Espectador´s special investigations group received the National Journalism Prize for its work on the "Gran Colombiano" group. In these same years, around 1980, El Espectador began to denounce the operations of drug traffickers and the director, in a column called "Cuaderno de apuntes" ["The Notebook"], laid bare, with proper names, the obscure network of drug dealing in Colombia. On the 17th December 1986 Guillermo Cano Isaza was assassinated as he left work. His sons, Juan Guillermo and Fernando Cano, keep the flag flying, loyal to founding principals of El Espectador. In the editorial published the day after their father´s death, the following phrase could be read: "Seguimos adelante" [We carry on]. Despite the fact that for almost the entire 20th century El Espectador had boasted the second largest circulation in Colombia, after El Tiempo, its economic difficulties worsened, Consequently, on 12th November 1997, the Cano family sold most of its shares in the Comunican S.A. company to industrialist Julio Mario Santo Domingo. On 1st March 2010, the newspaper became the first in the country to be fully printed using ecological inks made with soybean-derived oils. For management, this constituted “yet another step in the publishing house’s commitment to environmental protection”. Since July 2012, the National Library of Colombia has made a digital version of the first edition of the newspaper available to the public, which can be accessed free of charge from the institution’s website.

El Tiempo newspaper

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Founded in 1911, in the city of Bogota. El Tiempo is the most important newspaper in Colombia and has a constant and firm commitment to civil liberties and democracy.

Its founder and first director was Alfonso Villegas Restrepo, but two years later his brother-in-law, Eduardo Santos Montejo, bought the newspaper over. Santos had contributed to the newspaper since its second edition, sending articles from Europe, where he lived. Since 1913 the name of El Tiempo has been historically linked to the surname Santos, a family where almost everyone works in the newspaper. Eduardo Santos defended the absolute independence of El Tiempo all the time he was at its head. His brother Enrique, the author of one of the most widely-read newspaper columns in Colombia - under the pen-name "Caliban" - replaced him as director in 1917. Enrique Santos notably modernised the newspaper, buying a linotype in Europe in 1918 and in 1924 acquiring 24-page tabular duplex press. Thereafter El Tiempo became the leading Colombian newspaper in readership and influence.

El Tiempo´s struggle in support of liberty and democracy produced violent reactions from those under attack from its pages. In 1952 the newspaper´s buildings were set on fire. Thirteen years later the dictatorship of general Rojas Pinilla ordered its closure, when Eduardo Santos refused to publish a communique of the military government, considering that the publication of the text went against the ideals of the newspaper and his own dignity.

In the Sixties and Seventies underwent a process of growth and development, led by Roberto García Pena, who ran it from 1939 to 1981. He was succeeded as head of the newspaper by Hernando Santos Castillo, who occupied the post until his death in 1999. After the latter’s death, the last directors of El Tiempo belonging to the Santos family, Enrique Santos Calderón and Rafael Santos Calderón, assumed the running of the newspaper. In 2007, the Planeta Group acquired 55% of the shares of the newspaper and 40% of City TV. This resulted, shortly after, in the appointment of journalist Roberto Pombo as editor. Luis Fernando Santos occupied the symbolic position of chairman of the board of directors, until it was abolished. Currently, only Rafael Santos Calderón remains as director of publications.

The new version of its design, developed under Cuban creative Mario García, was launched on 3rd October 2010. Opinion regarding the new image of the newspaper is divided, as even some of the newspaper’s news editors have stated that visual aspects were given precedence over the quality of the information. El Tiempo celebrated 100 years of existence on Sunday, 30th January 2011. To mark the occasion, it published a 128-page special, together with the news edition of that day. A digital commemorative version of the centenary was likewise posted on its Internet portal. Following its failure in the bidding process for the third private channel of national television, in which the Planeta Group was competing to win the award, and hence El Tiempo, the Spanish investment conglomerate put on sale its stake in the ownership of the publishing house. Negotiations, via which the economic group of Colombian businessman Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo acquired the shareholding of the Planeta Group, were concluded between March and April 2012. Sarmiento Angulo, who already owned a minor shareholding percentage (33%), accordingly gained control of 88% of the newspaper’s shares. Soon after, he bought the shareholdings of the Santos family and Abdón Espinosa Valderrama, thus becoming the newspaper’s sole owner.

Its pages have revealed the money laundering of drug dealers, which has led to the newspaper and its management receiving constant threats.

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