Presidential and congressional elections have dominated media coverage this year amid widespread concern about misinformation. High social media and smartphone usage in Colombia is pushing more big players to invest in digital, including the most widely read newspaper El Tiempo.
Media ownership in Colombia has historically been concentrated among a handful of private groups with links to economic and political elites. Colombians have traditionally turned to TV as their main source of information, but even the big free-to-air players such as Caracol News TV, part of privately owned Grupo Valorem, and RCN News TV, part of Ardila Lülle Organisation, and telenovela specialists RCN, have seen losses in audiences after the peaks of the pandemic.
Alternative TV news media are growing, and one, a nightly investigative strand called Noticias Uno, makes its debut in our survey in third position. It made its name as an investigative programme on the state-owned Channel 1, was critical of the former and current administrations, but later lost its slot on that channel, and was saved by a crowdfunding drive which raised enough for it to continue online. It is now shown on a pay cable channel and is thriving, thanks in part to consumers’ appetite for independent and more critical coverage.
The fortunes of the print sector have risen slightly as the pandemic has eased. Titles that moved either to PDF versions or turned digital-only such as ADN, Publimetro, and La Opinión resumed their print operation, which had stopped during the pandemic. Higher paper costs due to a low offer of providers and devaluation are the current threats.
Cambio magazine, owned in the 1990s by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez, has been relaunched online. This seems to be part of an effort to counter the influential Semana magazine which, having been acquired by a group belonging to billionaire banker Jaime Gilinski, turned to the right.
Colombia has two national newspapers, El Tiempo and El Espectador, both now paywalled online, and both trying to fight back against print’s long-term decline by innovating with editorial strategies in the hope of attracting online subscribers.
El Tiempo is reported to have more than 100,000 digital-only subscriptions, by some accounts the third biggest base in South America. It is winning subscribers by offering corporate discounts, and by partnering with Meta and the Times of India to use AI to predict which articles will generate the most subscriptions. El Espectador is hoping a return to core journalistic values, investing in product innovation, appealing to underserved audiences, and recommending relevant content to users automatically will boost its fortunes.
Colombia has seen the emergence of a number of important digital-first news brands such as Las2Orillas and Pulzo, which challenge mainstream media. The key to their approach is bringing users into their editorial processes. News aggregator Pulzo invites digital content creators and influencers to publish on their platform and share revenues. Las2Orillas strengthened its invitation to citizens to submit opinions and local news.
Presidential elections took place in May (and June), following massive popular protests in 2019–21 which placed the left in sight of the presidency for the first time in the country's history. The media are reflecting these shifts in society becoming more polarised, but our data have highlighted the increasing number of people who are disengaging from news: 74% of respondents said they often, sometimes, or occasionally try to avoid the news – one of the higher levels recorded in our survey.
Memes have become a popular form of political expression on social media, using satire and popular culture to undermine the credibility of candidates and political parties. But misinformation online and through social media and messaging apps continues to be an issue, with more than six in ten (61%) people saying they are concerned about what is real or fake online. Alleged interference in the Colombian electoral process by foreign governments, including Russia and Venezuela, has also been a recurrent news topic.
Colombian journalists have long faced intimidation from a variety of sources including rebel groups during the years of conflict. Paramilitaries-turned-drug traffickers directly attack journalists. Reporters Without Borders ranked the country at its lowest point in the World Press Freedom index for a decade, in spite of the 2017 peace accord which ended the conflict with the FARC guerrillas.
And while life as a reporter is difficult, high consumption of content through social and digital platforms has given journalists scope to develop personal followings. Colombians have the third-highest affinity towards paying attention to specific journalists over news brands, according to our data, which raises the question of whether a stronger connection with brands or journalists will lead to greater financial stability.
Associate Professor–Director of the Research Center for Digital Technology & Society, Universidad de La Sabana
There is very high rate of mobile phone use, and Colombians in our more urban-based sample get their news more frequently online (86% including social media in our data) than from TV (55%) or print (28%). TikTok saw a particular rise, part of a wider trend with younger people across South America.
Online (incl. social media)
Pay for online news
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Overall news trust is down by three percentage points (pp), from 40% last year. Additionally, trust in news that consumers specifically use went down 6pp from 45%, most likely linked to the increasing polarisation of news media due to congressional and presidential elections. Trust figures may also be affected by respondents' perceptions that the news media is subject to undue political or business influence.