In recent months, Ecuador has experienced one of the more turbulent period since the election of current President Rafael Correa in 2007 after a swathe of protests rocked the Andean nation.
During one such protest, Ecuador received condemnation from many international free speech groups for the detention of a French-Brazilian professor and journalist. The individual in question, Manuela Picq, claims she had practiced her freedom of expression and association as part of a pacific protest. The Ecuadorian government, however, maintains Picq was part of an anti-government protest trying to force its way towards a gathering of pro-government supporters.
Picq and opposition groups, however, claim she was a victim of a wider politically-motivated crackdown on dissent against the current regime, citing a 2013 communications law that detractors claim is aimed at censuring criticisms of Correa’s government.
Opponents claim the latest victim is the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media (Fundamedios). Founded in 2007, Fundamedios states it is an organism to support journalists, monitor threats as well as issue alerts of attacks on press freedoms and free speech in Ecuador.
— Diario Expreso (@Expresoec) September 8, 2015
The self-titled ‘media watchdog’ is facing closure after the National Communication Secretariat (Secom), Ecuador’s media regulator, opted to withdraw its license for violating its politically neutral status as non-profit by repeatedly posting pro-opposition content.
The organization, which has received funding from USAID and other US government institutions, was given 10 days to respond before Secom rules on its future. Secom claims Fundamedios’ remit is to “promote social development through the media” and is prohibited under Ecuadorian law as a non-profit, and its own internal regulations, from distributing partisan political materials.
Article 6 of Fundamedios’ statute claims the group “may not get involved in political, racial, labor, trade unions and religious issues.”
Secom, in its case, cited 57 entries on Fundamedios’ Twitter account with links to what it believes were politically motivated materials, including two journalist opinion columns and an interview with last month’s strike leader, Salvador Quishpe.
Fundamedios’ Director, César Ricaurte, spoke out against the move in an interview with Ecuadorian daily El Comercio: “We did not deviate a millimetre from our statues, we are fulfilling our objectives.” Ricuarte went on to claim this was as “attack on the press” and Secom was not distinguishing partisanship from political journalism.
Several international organizations including Freedom House and the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed their dissatisfaction with Secom’s decision. Joining them, Human Rights Watch Director, Daniel Wilkinson, claimed the move was in violation of Article 16 of the American Convention on Human Rights and had choice words for the administration: “This is an egregious abuse of power and a clear example of this government’s authoritarian practices.”
Among the ‘authoritarian practices’ alluded to, Wilkinson includes Secom being handed more control by the 2013 communications law. Since this date the regulatory body has issued 313 penalties against 198 media organization.
Despite international condemnation, several important individuals and industry bodies within Ecuador and Latin America, have publicly supported the move and questioned Fundimedios’ legitimacy as a non-partisan media watchdog. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who refused to accept a media freedom award in 2012 as Fundamedios were also awarded, re-released his statement in support of Secom.
Two of Ecuador’s leading journalistic bodies, the Journalist Association of Guayas and the National Federation of Journalists of Ecuador (FENAPE) also backed Secom.
Orlando Pérez, director of Ecuadorian newspaper, El Telegrafo, said to Andes news agency, “Fundamedios is a political actor in this era the country is living.” Perez’s views are echoed by Francisco Sierra Caballero, the Director General of the International Centre for Further Studies of Communication for Latin American (Ciespal), also reported by Andes news agency, as saying that Fundamedios’ practices “could not even be described as observations.”
The Latin American news agency, TeleSur, also released an article where they claim Fundamedios failed to issue alerts when several journalists were victims of physical attacks by demonstrators during opposition protests last month. The journalist also called a press conference to denounce the attacks and, according to the news agency report, received no backing from Fundamedios.
— Noticias EcuadorTV (@noticiasecuador) September 16, 2015
Is Ecuador silencing freedom of speech? Or, did Fundamedios violate it’s commitment to being non-partisan? Join the debate below.