Risking Lives: Entrapment and Lies by Colombia’s Septimo Dia

Since the news show Septimo Dia aired their broadcast on August 31 entitled “Turismo sin límites: sexo, droga y peligro” my rebuttal of the episode has been incredibly popular in the blogosphere, but I am now able to follow-up that piece of personal indignation, with some facts that have been brought forward by two of the tourists filmed.

colombian TV

Septimo Dia has lost its way?

Escobar, Drugs and Hostels in Colombia

“We had the impression they were doing a documentary about the graffiti scene in Medellin and wanted foreigners take on it. We weren’t even planning on going to the neighborhood until the guys came and invited us to do the tour and doc with them.

“In addition to them being misleading, there were certain things that were complete fabrications – for example, when they stated that we paid 20,000 COP each for a tour of Comuna 13. We paid nothing – the producer came to the hostel and offered a free tour to see the work of a famed graffiti artist in Medellin, and that they just wanted to get the reactions of some tourists to his work.”

Aaron Thomas.

As a journalist, I am more than aware that our role as the Fourth Estate is to inform but this importance comes with great responsibility. Manuel Teodoro and María Lucía Fernández have, in the past, provided us with some ground-breaking pieces of investigative journalism but this high praise cannot be bestowed upon last week’s show. Having been contacted in the week by a hostel owner who had hosted Aaron Thomas and his girlfriend Christina Iturralde, and given the information that has now come to light, it seems that Septimo Dia might have to make a retraction or at least some clarifications.

“It was disappointing, to say the least, to see that they tried to make it into something it was not, and that they lied to us to get us to participate.”

Aaron Thomas

sculptures in Medellin

Botero’s birds of peace. Medellin

It’s not only two of the tourists on the “graffiti tour” in Medellin who are put out. What of the owners of the nightclub in Medellin where some gringos were interviewed? They were drunk, they like women and there are no drugs to be seen anywhere. Surely this is false representation inasmuch as suggesting that Aaron Thomas and Christina Iturralde were on a “danger” tour is calumnious.

At no point am I saying that there is not a vile element amongst tourists to Colombia coming to seek out drugs and prostitutes. They do exist. But given that Septimo Dia presumably couldn’t entrap or find any actual sex and drugs tourists, they turned the camera on unsuspecting individuals.

Which brings us to the next point.

Hostels get an unjustifiably bad rap. Those hostels which are legitimate and which have their papers in order are those which have been pulling Colombian tourism from out of the sad doldrums where it had been for so long. These hostel owners were here when Colombia was bleeding; they have seen the bad days and are the ones responsible for attracting new wave after new wave of visitors to the country. Septimo Dia should offer an apology to the likes of Colombian Hostels and others. The “hostel” featured in last week’s show is not actually a hostel and neither is it legal. I suppose you could say that the Israeli-run Casa Iftah is a kind of speakeasy for people looking for that scene. The authorities have known about it for years. If they wanted or could shut it down, they would have done so a long time ago.

innovation in Medellin

Children playing at the museo del nino, Medellin. Most people come to the city for its famed innovative planning

The question that Septimo Dia should most probably be asking instead of vilifying decent travellers is:

So, who stands to benefit while these tourists seeking drugs continue in their damaging practices in Bogota’s Candelaria and in other Colombian cities?   

Instead, what they did is circulate a slander on the backpacking community.  It might be worth just checking out this extract taken from Christina Iturralde’s blog about travelling in Colombia.

“We were quite fortunate to have been invited to help with the filming of a tv station’s documentary of the growing popularity of the newly started graffiti tours. Our guides for the grafitour were graffiti artist, El Perro (Daniel), an MC named El Chavo (Esteban) and a hip hop artist named Manuela. El Perro was born and raised in la Comuna 13. He gave us a short history of the neighborhood with a deeper understanding of the violence which has rocked the neighborhood from a personal point of view. While the filming held us up and made the tour a bit longer than anyone might have liked, this did not take anything away from the depth and enjoyment of the tour, the art, and watching as three passionate people are trying to transform their neighborhood through positive art for the people. I was blown away.”

Christina Iturralde is a Civil and Human Rights Advocate and had been, previous to travelling in Colombia, working at Asylum Access in Ecuador, which serves many Colombian refugees. Manuel Teodoro and María Lucía Fernández would do well to take a look at her blog, read the posts and see how much of the local community benefited economically from her visit to Colombia.

A nice comment on the last blog by a gentleman named "Colombiano de Valores"

A nice comment on the last blog by a gentleman named “Colombiano de Valores”

Once again, the first casualty in this ratings war has inevitably been the truth. And what’s more worrying that in Colombia’s continual situation of international isolationism, there are those who believe this nonsense. That’s the most dangerous effect of it all.

6 thoughts on “Risking Lives: Entrapment and Lies by Colombia’s Septimo Dia

  • Septimo Dia is pure yellow journalism. They would sell out their own mothers for ratings. I've always hated their asses.

    If they wanted to do something good, they could investigate the denuncia process and find out why it's so convoluted and why the police despite all the advertising are reluctant to take a denuncia from someone and do everything to make it NOT happen!

    -Rubio

  • Well, to be fair there was a website back in the day called "Poor but happy." If you ever read that thing you would've seen that a large number of people there were interested in Colombia only for the sex. Some were even quite open about having sex with underage girls. You also hear every now and then of some tourist dying of an overdose. However, these are not the common characteristics of the foreign tourist in Colombia. Or at least, you would hope so.

    Now, in terms of the actual issue at hand, which is Septimo Dia's reporting I do agree that was horribly done and very unethically done. You seem to have quite the grasp in the Colombian psyche so let me give you a suggestion. Personally, I feel that this piece of "journalism" wa done with a generous amount of sensationalism (much journalism done in Colombia is like that). They don't quite stick to the facts, but emphasize certain parts of the story to sell it better (make it sexier, if you will). In any case, that TV show is shameful.

    • It's an interesting point Rafael. I do remember Poor But Happy and know that the owner shut it down after all those years due to the increase in trolls looking for sex and drugs. With regards to journalism, I think potentially there's a whole story to pursue in terms of the sensationalism here because even the most serious outlets can be charged as guilty of this of course. So, let me ask you this, do you think that given the amount of bloodletting, drugs and terror that have taken place over the years in Colombia, people are jaded to these facts and need them to be presented in a "sensationalist" fashion in order to get the news out there? It could be a possiblity.

      With regards to Septimo Dia there, the greatest crime was that there seemed to be no "hilo conductor" through the whole episode which linked the sections together once you see and hear about the entrapment and amarillismo that took place. It really was just a vague tapestry of short stories loosely connected in an attempt to both thrill and outrage the audience. The desire to "inform" which of course is our role as journalists, was visibly absent.

      • You could potentially be right. I think, from my perspective, that Colombians are "used" to things not working properly so there's an over-abundance of negativity in the news as this is what people wants/ are familiar with. I think that's in a way people like to be in this state of fear. Another way to put it is the criticism of US news outlets compared to how events are reported in other countries. It's like they want people to be afraid. (A point aside, it would be cool to see a study to see if any of this is actually true).

        I read another column of yours where you make a point about Pablo Escobar and how people are angry about it and yet you have all these TV shows glorifying criminal thinking and that sort of thing. That also applies to the way journalism sometimes occur in Colombia. The one thing I've noticed is related to how those formats seem to have failed when it comes to cinema, that is to say, paid entertainment. Suddenly, no one wants to pay to watch that. Hence, my conclusion is that people are tired of this type of story-telling and the only reason they accept it on TV is because it's free. Hence, if people had to pay to watch shows like Septimo Dia they would go bankrupt in no time.

        One thing people sometimes comment about the lack of support for Colombian movie-making efforts is that they portrayed our reality. My understanding is that cinema functions mostly as a way to escape from our harsh reality. I find it hard to believe that anyone in Colombia can go outside and not be punched by the reality of the country, even if things have gotten better. Shows like Septimo Dia stretch reality and make claims that are not 100% true. You would think people would be able to see that this is just sensationalism, that is not to be taken seriously and that it's just entertainment. Hopefully, people are able to discern real facts from selected realities conveniently presented to increase ratings.

        I haven't watched Colombian TV (or Septimo Dia) in a while so I can't comment on your last points, but it sounds awful. I'm certainly glad I don't watch any of that.

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