Research Communications

Media Mirror: News programs reveal how Colombians view corruption 

By Philip Barnes
With the signing of the United States-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in 2006, government subsidies were intended to aid poor Colombian farmers who owned little land. Rich families, however, segmented their own farmland to reap the same benefits. Judicial institutions now are investigating whether government officials were aware of this situation, says graduate student Adriana Ángel Botero.

The student, a native of Colombia, is studying the way in which such corruption is communicated through radio programs. The issue is not limited to agriculture, she says, but has been raised in the health sector as well.

 Adriana Ángel Botero
Adriana Ángel Botero (provided photo)

Thirty four insurance companies dominate the entire health care system. Acting as a cartel, they charge the exact same amount for their services, making medicine seven times more expensive than usual. 

Agricultural and health-based corruption is discussed in several episodes of Hora 20, a Colombian radio program similar to those on U.S. National Public Radio. Colombians depend on radio and television for news more so than any other medium; about two million listeners tune in to Hora 20 daily. Ángel  Botero's research involves dissecting these programs in order to better understand the representation of corruption.

"I've discovered that there is no agreement on what corruption is in Colombia," Ángel Botero says. "It's like health care in the United States-no one knows exactly how to approach it."

After transcribing 13 different programs in 800 pages, Ángel Botero separated the opinions of Hora 20 speakers (businessmen, journalists, laborers, lawyers, etc.) into six categories, ranging from corruption as being normal to immoral. She notes that in her literature review, she read that 63 percent of Colombians believe they are naturally corrupt.
 Media Mirror
Illustration: Christina Ullman
"In Colombia, we have normalized corruption," Ángel Botero says. "It is in our heads and is creating a huge separation between law and culture. I was crying when I was transcribing, asking myself: what has happened to my country?"

Because the issue is so complex, Ángel Botero's new study adds a valuable perspective to the discussion, according to Ben Bates, an associate professor of communication studies who is the student's faculty advisor.

"We have to understand the multiple facets of corruption and the multiple interpretations of corruption if we are going the solve problems of corruption in Colombia," he notes.

Ángel Botero believes that education is the only way to make a change. The first step is getting people to understand that corruption is not a normal practice. Only then will people challenge crooked politicians and dishonesty within the private sector.

In December, Ángel Botero graduated and returned to Manizales, where she will work for a university, teaching about corruption in society. She comes back to Colombia knowing that, despite its problems, her native country has "some of the happiest people in the world," she says.

Ángel Botero was a student in the School of Communication Studies in the Scripps College of Communication.

This article appears in the special graduate student edition of Ohio University's Perspectives magazine, published in spring 2013.