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The Narco News Bulletin

"The Name of Our Country is América"

-- Simón Bolívar

McFarren, AP, and the Rise of the "Para-Journalists"

Part II in a Series

Associated Press Conflict Scandal Escalates

Journo-Lobbyist Draws Fire from FAIR

How The Paramilitaries of Journalism Do the Drug War's Dirty Work for Personal Gain

Part II in a Series

By Al Giordano

"The Inca Indians and Mestizos are good for nothing in the progressive evolution of modern societies. Sooner or later, in the struggle for survival, they will have to disappear beneath the sovereign rule of pure or purified whites"

-- Gabriel René Moreno, Bolivian Author, circa 1890

"The protests, which have also left dozens injured, have been laced with a strong dose of anti-white sentiment. Felipe Quispe, an Aymara Indian and leader of the country's main farmers organization, told government ministers in the talks that the land belongs to the Aymara and Quechua Indians and not the whites."

-- Peter McFarren, AP Correspondent and Corporate Lobbyist, Bolivia, September 2000

"The root ideology of Bolivia is racism."

-- Pulso magazine, La Paz, Bolivia, October 2000

The passage above by Associated Press Bolivia correspondent Peter McFarren claimed "anti-white sentiment" by Bolivian indigenous and social movements. In a media world that promotes the belief that racism is a question of pigmentation and not of race, McFarren's report is based on his distorted translation of an indigenous word: "Khara" is an Inca term in Bolivia that means "someone who is not from here."

A "khara" could be white, black, yellow, or even look like a local, but he would still be a "khara" if he was not from there. But Peter McFarren translated the word to "white."

McFarren surely knows that in the Aymará language of indigenous leader Felipe Quispe, the word for "white" is "janq'u" and not "khara."

Or, as the US Library of Congress profile on Bolivia explains:

"Because all of the so-called racial terms connoted social status rather than racial background, they were applied indiscriminately and often interchangeably. A wealthy, upperclass person of mixed blood, for example, might be considered white, whereas a poorer one might be termed a mestizo. An Indian might be called a cholo in one situation or a campesino in another."

That McFarren, a blonde and wealthy Bolivian-born son of a Methodist missionary from the United States, educated in the US, translated the word khara to "white," speaks volumes of his tendency to distort the news in ways that clearly aid his conflict of interest.

Part I of this series documented McFarren's unethical conflict-of-interest as a lobbyist for a $78 million dollar water export project before the Bolivian congress:

Long before McFarren's September 14, 2000 lobbying presentation in the Hall of the Senate in the Bolivian capital of La Paz, the evidence was already clear that McFarren is something more, and something less, much less, than a journalist.

The power of US correspondents in Latin America has been a recurring theme in reports by The Narco News Bulletin. Abuses of that power by correspondents of the New York Times in Mexico and the Miami Herald in Colombia have been documented on these pages and have opened a discussion among authentic journalists about the role of US correspondents. On the day he ceased being the Miami Herald correspondent in Colombia, Tim Johnson responded to The Narco News Bulletin critique of his reporting: "The funny thing is that I agree with much of what you say."

It bears repeating that English-language coverage of events in Latin America can cause governments and economic empires to rise or fall. There are so few full-time US and English-language news correspondents in Latin American countries that these individuals have come to enjoy an absolute power of filtration of the news that has corrupted too many of them absolutely.

And the wedge issue that these "journalists" use time and time again to keep the social movements of all América marginalized in the English-language press is that of the war on drugs. In place of reporting accurately on the impact of US-imposed drug policy, US correspondents have enlisted as partisan soldiers in the war on drugs. McFarren is an extreme example, but there are too many others like him, backed by the unspoken policy upon US correspondents: to be the journalistic paramilitaries on behalf of Washington's party line. Just as paramilitary soldiers armed with guns do the dirty work of the regimes, the journalistic paramilitaries -- the para-journalists -- wage the info war to defend and perpetrate US policy in foreign lands.

The drug war, since its inception, has relied upon the use of the race card by news media to push the buttons of fear and distortion. Not every agency is always guilty of this: Reuters, for example, in its September and October coverage of social unrest in Bolivia reported accurately that the chewing of coca leaf by peasants and Indians in Bolivia is a traditional and medicinal custom, not to be equated with the harmful effects of sniffing cocaine hydrochloride. This point, unfortunately, has been withheld from readers of Associated Press reports on the recent confrontations between coca growers and the Bolivian government.

McFarren's distorted translation on "anti-white sentiment" is a case in point: as the only official English-language correspondent in Bolivia, his reports routinely get picked up or copied by other news agencies. That's the reality of today's news industry: institutionalized plagiarism of works that don't deserve to be copied. Subsequent articles in the New York Times and the Miami Herald -- by reporters who were not present and probably have never heard the word "khara" in their lives -- repeated the big lie: that the indigenous leader Felipe Quispe ("El Mallku," or "Great Condor") attacked the "whites" in his discourse during negotiations between the government and Bolivian peasants.

In fact, El Mallku was speaking of the "kharas" -- almost every indigenous language has a word for "those who are not from here" -- and the interpretation by McFarren, copied by others, was his intentional distortion aimed at frightening caucasian readers of the Indians in order to gain support and sympathy for the government of Bolivian dictator-turned-"president" Hugo Banzer.

As documented by Narco News on October 6th, that is the very same Banzer regime upon which Peter McFarren must rely to gain support for his $78 million water export project.

McFarren has ignored and censored real news to help the Banzer regime remain in control of a country that demands a change. His unethical behavior mandates that he be relieved of his conflict of interest. But that he would make up, so cynically, an inaccurate translation for the word "khara" in order to defend those interests is as racist as it is unethical. And this falsification of the news comes from a "cultural promoter" who peddles in "preserving Bolivian culture." Racism is not limited to skin tone; indeed, in Bolivia and so much of Latin America, racism is often focused on a single question: to be or not to be indigenous.

The conflict of interest could not be any clearer. The dirty work in protecting that conflict is more subtle and nefarious. And so the protectors of the rampant corruption in US news bureaus in Latin America are mute before the charges. To open this Pandora's box of institutionalized media corruption would expose too many dark secrets of modern commercial "journalism" to public light. And so they, the great communicators, have fallen mute.

Silence and Stonewalling from AP

Confronted by the facts in our first story -- sent by email on October 6, 2000 to each of the officers of the AP Managing Editors Association (APME) -- the self-described guardians of ethics at Associated Press have run from offering an official response.

They fell impotent and silent before the claim: They did not defend McFarren. They did not criticize him. They did not question his unethical conflict. They did not even announce an investigation into the charges made by The Narco News Bulletin, charges so serious that had they been documented against any domestic journalist within the United States they would have ended entire journalistic careers. To place this story in perspective: Imagine a prominent Washington journalist as a lobbyist before congress for a multi-million dollar business project that happened to directly profit a foundation of which that journalist was president. This is exactly what the AP and APME endorse with their silence in Bolivia.

Their silence shouts a cowardice and intellectual dishonesty unworthy of any journalist, much less the self-serving club that claims to monitor and consult the Associated Press on matters of journalistic ethics.

The president of the APME is one Jerry Ceppos of the Knight-Ridder corporate newspaper chain. Although Ceppos did not respond to the letter sent to him by Narco News, he did respond to one of our readers, who then posted the Ceppos "response" on the APME web site discussion board. Ceppos wrote only two sentences on this grave matter:

"I will forward your concerns to the AP but suggest that you also contact the AP directly. APME is not involved in management of the AP."

-- Jerry Ceppos, President, APME

The reader who received this letter from Ceppos then posted his own response on the APME discussion board that spoke eloquently for the growing concerns of many:

"This is a bit confusing to me, given that according to the APME website, the APME "works in partnership with AP to improve the wire service's performance" and the APME "conduct[s] regular wire watches to evaluate AP's performance".

"For X to do Y, X needs to be capable of doing Y. Thus if the APME oversees the AP in any meaningful sense, then the APME must be able to do something regarding a gross conflict of interest on the part of an AP correspondent. Either the APME in fact has no power of 'improvement and evaluation' over the AP, or I'm being blown off.

"The arcana of press bureaucracy is of no interest to me, but I do care about what happens to the case of Peter "Mr. Bolivia" McFarren. If saying "you need to talk to the AP" is a way of dismissing the problem, I ask that the APME officers to reconsider. Mr. McFarren is a business lobbyist and philanthropist intimately tied to the workings of the government in Bolivia. For him to also pose as an AP journalist is absurd and an embarrasment to the AP.

"If, on the other hand, the APME has no power over the AP, then I wonder why it exists. As the self-described caretaker of the AP wire, how can the APME justify its own existence if it cannot come down hard on such a blatant case of conflict of interest?"

Note the lack of information in Ceppos' letter: He urges the reader to contact AP, but does not offer a name, an email address, a phone number, nothing. The AP's own web site contains no information or name of anyone involved with Latin American news coverage. On the matter of "ethics," it simply states that the APME writes the code of ethics for AP and monitors AP reports.

It's a shell game of buck-passing between AP and APME that allows both organizations to evade responding to charges of unethical journalism.

Indeed, the APME is no more than a front to protect corrupted journalism.

The APME's own discussion board has this disclaimer:

"This forum is for discussion of issues and topics related to the Associated Press Managing Editors. Comments or questions about AP stories or services should go to AP's corporate Web site, Member editors should contact their local chief of bureau directly."

And yet, the AP web site address offered by APME contains no message board and no information on how to contact the Latin American desk. AP has no ombudsman, no letters page, it is a journalistic entity drifting in outer space without an ethical anchor, while it hides behind the APME, which, as Ceppos makes clear, is toothless and without interest in doing the job that it claims it exists to do.

APME President Jerry Ceppos: No First-Time Offender

Ceppos is best known for another journalistic scandal involving his tenure as executive editor at the San José Mercury News in California. For it was Jerry Ceppos who had ultimate responsibility for the "Dark Alliance" series by Gary Webb in 1996 that documented US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) involvement in narco-trafficking in Latin America. That part of the Webb series has never been, indeed could not be, called into question: it has been documented by US Senator John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) and his select subcommittee on narcotics and terrorism, dating back to 1986.

The part of the San José Mercury News story that was attacked by official news organizations was its report that the CIA had hands-on involvement in distributing that cocaine in the form of crack on the streets of US cities.

Ceppos, upon the attacks by the New York Times, the Washington Post and other "Cathedrals of Journalism" suddenly shifted gears. He went from being proud of his newspaper's groundbreaking reports on official US involvement in drug trafficking to running from the story altogether. Ceppos' Mercury News offered a muddy correction on the Webb series.

But instead of accepting responsibility as the newspaper's top editor for what, if it had been an inaccurate report, was the blame of the editorial staff, Ceppos turned the reporter, Gary Webb, into the scapegoat.

Webb was banished from the story, and thus left unable by Ceppos to defend or further document his reports, and sent to the journalistic equivalent of Siberia: a bureau job that forced Webb to drive 100 miles to and from his new office each day in order to support his family. Webb quietly left the Mercury News as rumors of threatened lawsuits circulated in journalistic and investigative circles. Webb landed on his feet as a librarian and researcher but has never publicly commented on what happened between the newspaper and him. Narco News points out that most publicly-volatile legal settlements and payments of damages are accompanied by "gag orders" that forbid the winner -- in this case, it would be the reporter who had been wronged by a newspaper's fraudulent damages to his career -- from speaking publicly about anything related to the case.

And so Jerry Ceppos' pattern of silence and stonewalling was long established even before he gained the career plum of the presidency of APME. Narco News further points out the historic pattern of how jobs like that of APME president are too often given as rewards for dirty work done on behalf of the powerful. Just as former Colombian President César Gaviria won the job of president of the Organization of American States (OAS) as reward for his joining the US-sponsored attack on his attorney general -- Gustavo de Greiff, who dared to state that drugs must be legalized -- Jerry Ceppos achieved the presidency of APME precisely because of his willingness to engage in unethical activity to protect the hypocrisy of the drug war.

McFarren: Still At Large

The cowardice and complicity of the APME has left AP Bolivia correspondent Peter McFarren in place as gatekeeper of information for Associated Press and, simultaneously, as lobbyist for a $78 million dollar private-sector water export project.

In the days after our first report, on October 6, McFarren himself did not file any reports. Another AP correspondent filed one shallow report in the time that Reuters filed six. McFarren, temporarily, had something in common with the roads and highways of Bolivia: he was paralyzed from communicating. But last week, when the protests were temporarily negotiated away, McFarren's byline reappeared to cheer the "victory" of the Banzer regime in the negotiations and to endear himself once more to the dictator-president he needs to get his multi-million dollar water project approved.

With the reappearance of McFarren's byline, the Associated Press and the APME revealed to all the world their own hypocrisy and corruption, as well as the arrogance and impunity which has become their trademark.

McFarren's History as Drug War Para-Journalist

In his "reporting" for AP, as well as McFarren's own English-language weekly, The Bolivian Times, he has been a slavish promoter of the US-imposed drug war, especially when it served his agenda to curry favor with the Banzer regime of Bolivia.

He began the new millenium with a report cheering the "success" of the drug war in Bolivia.

His January 1, 2000 report can be found online in the Media Awareness Project archives:

In a story titled, "BOLIVIAN COCAINE FARMERS ARE GOING BANANAS -- AND STRAIGHT," McFarren claimed that coca farmers were happy with the government's eradication of their crops and pleased with "alternative development" programs of the US government and the United Nations.

"Claudio Beltran used to grow coca plants, but now he oversees dozens of other Quechua Indian farmers as they pick and process bananas for export," wrote McFarren. "He says he's happy with the changes brought by a government campaign to wipe out production of the raw material for cocaine, and not only because he makes more money."

McFarren's story had the motive of covering-up the growing unrest among coca growers, who have seen their livelihoods destroyed by the US-imposed eradication program. That discontent, by September, boiled into a nationwide revolt that succesfully blockaded the main highways and roads and paralyzed Bolivia for a month. McFarren's version of the story, however, implied that all was well in the Bolivian region of Chimoré:

"The situation in the region is much more peaceful since coca farming disappeared," McFarren quoted the peasant farmer as saying. Then McFarren equated the farmworkers union with narco-traffickers, saying the "cocaine gaings and coca-leaf farming unions held sway over as many as 250,000 people." In fact, those unions are a thousand times more democratic than the Bolivian government, their leaders are elected and major decisions are only made by consulting and achieving the support of the base membership.

McFarren's role as publicist -- not journalist -- was clear in his New Year's address. Look at which institutions he promotes: "The United States government and the United Nations are investing tens of millions of dollars in the development of alternative crops to replace coca and fight the illegal drug industry. Miguel Zambrana, owner of Chapare Export, began experimenting with banana plantations nine years ago, backed by $500,000 in seed money provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Assisted by Ecuadoran agricultural experts and additional loans from the World Bank-financed Bolivian Export Foundation, Zambrana has built up a highly successful operation. He employs 200 men and women, most of them former coca leaf growers, and produces bananas for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets."

And then McFarren quoted the then-US Ambassador, Donna Hrinak, to top off his distortion: "Driving through the Chapare today evokes images of eco-tourism, tropical fruits and wildlife and moneymaking ventures, images every day more powerful than the region's past association with the seediness of drug trafficking."

Nine months later the coca growers rose up in rebellion. And readers of AP news were caught by surprise because of the distorted "reporting" of Peter McFarren.

McFarren's War on Water

The drug war, in Our América, too often serves as a curtain of smoke to obscure the large scale looting of Latin American resources that is the cornerstone of US policy.

In fact, the dispute that first sparked this year's wave of social protests in Bolivia was not driven by coca leaf, but by a drug to which every human being is addicted: water.

McFarren's report of April 10th of this year can also be found at the Media Awareness Project archives:

McFarren's version of the events began:

LA PAZ, Bolivia (AP) - The government agreed Monday to back off water price hikes that sparked a weeklong spiral of violent protests by thousands of farmers and workers, fueled by the economic crisis in South America's poorest country.

The protests, which have virtually shut down Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest city and have left six dead, prompted a security crackdown and a ``state of siege'' decree giving police and the military a freer rein.

An end to the unrest was in sight Monday evening, after the government reached an agreement with protest organizers, the Roman Catholic Church and local officials over an expensive water project in Cochabamba and a controversial new water law....

The Cochabamba protests were prompted by a 20 percent increase in city water rates needed to finance the badly needed expansion of water and sewage systems in the central city, high in the Andes. Demonstrations quickly spread to rural areas with thousands protesting a new water law, unemployment, rising fuel prices and economic difficulties.

And again, perhaps to obscure the explosive matter of McFarren's own plan to siphon 3,000 liters of Bolivian water per second to copper mines in Chile, the AP correspondent cynically linked the water protests with drug traffickers:

On Monday, Information Minister Ronald MacLean accused drug traffickers of backing the demonstrations in an attempt to stop a government program to eradicate production of coca leaf, used to make cocaine.

``These protests are a conspiracy financed by cocaine trafficking looking for pretexts to carry out subversive activities,'' MacLean said. ``It is impossible for so many peasants to spontaneously move on their own.''

The destruction of coca leaf production has deprived thousands of peasants of their sole means of income, particularly in the area around Cochabamba.

Read those words again by the government minister, repeated by McFarren without offering any counterpoint by the protesters themselves:

``It is impossible for so many peasants to spontaneously move on their own.''

Again, he is speaking mainly of Indigenous peasants. The implication that the well-organized peasant unions cannot "move on their own" and therefore must be backed by cocaine traffickers is part and parcel of what Pulso magazine called "the root ideology of Bolivia... racism."

In each of these stories, McFarren has done no more than parrot the Bolivian and US governments' propaganda.

In addition to McFarren's blatant $78 million conflict-of-interest in which he needs that same Bolivian government's support for his water export project, McFarren had another motive to play the racist drug war card last April: to create a lot of smoke that hides his own water grab from public scrutiny.

To offer an idea of the scale of McFarren's water export project, the entire water supply for the city of Cochabamba -- that which sparked the April conflicts -- is slightly more than 800 liters per second. McFarren's plan would take 3,000 liters per second out of water-starved Bolivia.

McFarren, like APME, Doesn't Answer to the Charges

Not even McFarren has defended himself from these serious charges. The Narco News Bulletin quoted him fairly and accurately in Part I of this series, and offered him, via an October 6 e-mail, full opportunity to respond, uncensored, on our pages. McFarren has not offered any defense of his unethical activities.

McFarren has also failed to disclose to Narco News, as he said he would upon written request, the names of the officers and investors behind COBOREH, the Corporación Boliviana de Recursos Hidricos, who he represents as a lobbyist to the Bolivian Congress.

In recent days, McFarren's conflict of interest reared its head again.

As Clifford Krauss reported in the New York Times of the negotiated truce after 30 days of citizen blockades has frozen the entire Bolivian infrastructure:

The government met the most important demands of the Aymara- speaking peasants after Indian leaders threatened to surround La Paz and starve the capital in a replay of a bloody Indian rebellion in 1781. Sitting across a table from Indian leaders , government ministers agreed to prop up corn prices, reverse a land titling process that would have raised taxes and revert government water rights back to Indian peasants.

That final point -- "revert government water rights back to Indian peasants" -- directly impacts Peter McFarren's $78 million dollar project to export 3,000 liters per second of water from Bolivia to copper mines in Chile.

What more proof do AP and the APME need to determine that McFarren has a clear conflict of interest writing about anything to do with the peasant rebellion or the Banzer government? His own water grab was part of the negotiations between peasant blockaders and the government.

In fact, a new controversy has begun in the Bolivian state of Potosí, from where McFarren's project will take the water to pump toward Chile. There, state government and industry leaders who stand, with McFarren's Quispus Foundation, to profit from the water grab, are now protesting the government's negotiated agreement with indigenous and peasant organizations. That's because the agreement signed between the government and the peasant organizations specifically places McFarren's water export project on hold.

McFarren's own report of the negotiated agreement for AP made no mention that the delay of his water project was part of the accords that were the central news of his most recent story.

And the daily Los Tiempos of Cochabamba reports: Government and industry officials in Potosí have now given the Bolivian government a deadline of November 10th to break its deal with the peasant and indigenous groups on the water export law, or they will begin protests of their own.

McFarren is at ground zero in the controversy. The social unrest in Bolivia exists, to a large degree, because of his own conflict of interest. Beyond the "appearance of conflict" that is forbidden by APME's code of ethics that -- they claim -- governs AP reporters, McFarren is guilty of a direct and absolute conflict of interest.

The Public Speaks

The discussion board at the AP Managing Editors Association web site has brought various commentaries -- all opposed to McFarren's conflict of interest -- and yet APME and AP continue to refuse to respond publicly. That discussion board can be found online at:

One reader posted there:

What newspaper in the world would allow one of their
reporters to directly lobby the government on the behalf
of huge private interests and continue to report on
events of relevance for those interests? No paper that
follows the APME code of ethics could do that, but
apparently 1550 daily papers that make up the AP are
doing just that.

Can I now assume that the AP reports out of Colombia
are written by lobbyists for the makers of helicopters
and herbicides? How would that be any different at all
from McFarren's lobbying in Bolivia? If the AP allows
McFarren to get away with this, how on earth can I ever
trust the credibility of another AP reporter again?

Does all this mean that the APME is a monumental
failure at it's stated goal of "setting ethical and
journalistic standards for newspapers?"

Another reader wrote:

Dear AP,

Is it true? You filter the news; make the news; and perpetrate the ignorance of the American people? I always believed it was the Press that would ultimately keep us free, keep our Constitution in place. In fact, I see now how you have been aiding those who have sought to erode our Democracy.

Before, I could only suspect you. Now I see at least one smoking gun: Your handling of the Bolivia situation.

The Associated Press and the AP Managing Editors Association may have the right to remain silent, but if they wish to be credible news organizations they have a greater responsibility to respond. Indeed, their own "code of ethics" states clearly their responsibility to "report matters regarding itself or its personnel with the same vigor and candor as it would other institutions or individuals."

AP and the APME have thus betrayed their very own "code of ethics."

In the meantime, Authentic Journalism organizations like The Media Channel in New York City (with more than 400 affiliates across the globe) and FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) have begun to openly question the Associated Press and its role in Latin America. FAIR's nationally-syndicated radio show, Counterspin, heard on 110 radio stations in the United States, featured the story this week. On that program, co-host Janine Jackson announced that FAIR is preparing an alert to its members on the AP Bolivia conflict of interest. Para-journalists beware: FAIR has exposed and defeated corrupted journalism before.

If the citizens of América want better journalism, this is the time to fight for it. AP and the APME have been exposed as paper tigers and false journalists. Their silence reveals their fear. Of what? They fear the informed voice of the readers: your voice, the voice of the people. The very voice that Peter McFarren has censored for years from his powerful position as AP bureau chief in Bolivia to serve the racist war on drugs and his $78 million conflict of interest.

Since when did journalism become a conspiracy of silence? A journalist who cannot answer to serious charges of conflict of interest and unethical behavior is no journalist at all. McFarren, Ceppos and the commanders of AP and APME are not journalists. They are "para-journalists," in a racket of mutual protection with the powers that rely on injustice and untruth to remain in control. And nowhere is that more evident than in their defense of the indefensible: the drug war conquest of our América.

Welcome to the 21st century, an epoch in which journalists have been supplanted by the "para-journalists," the paramilitaries of misinformation who do the dirty work for the regimes that Authentic Journalists once investigated.


Former Boston Phoenix political reporter Al Giordano is publisher of The Narco News Bulletin, reporting on the drug war from Latin America. He has written for the Washington Post, American Journalism Review and scores of other publications. He receives email at

Memo to Civil Society:

What Can Be Done About Corrupted US Journalism in Latin America?

1. Join the Discussion at the APME web site:

2. Write to the APME officers:

President: Jerry Ceppos, vice president/news, Knight Ridder; (408) 938-7830; fax: (408) 938-7766;

Vice President: Chris Peck, editor, Spokesman-Review, Spokane; (509) 459-5423, fax (509) 459-5482,

Secretary: Caesar Andrews, editor, Gannett News Service; (703) 276-5898;

Treasurer, David B. Offer:

Chair, Journalism Studies: Ed Jones, editor, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.; (540) 374-5401, fax (540) 373-8455,

Vice Chair, Journalism Studies: Paula LaRocque, assistant managing editor, Dallas Morning News; (214) 977-8770; fax: (214) 977-8164;

3. Seek Alternate Routes to Factual Reporting from Latin America

Subscribe to the Narco News Group to Receive Fresh Reports on the Drug War from Latin America

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Closing In on the Para-Journalists