Ever since Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa assumed office in 2007 he has had an acrimonious relationship with large swathes of the national press.
Right, and center-right media outlets systematically level accusations of authoritarianism at Correa while, in turn, Ecuador’s President has on numerous occasions upbraided the press for working for the country’s ‘oligarchy’ and U.S. imperial interests.
More recently, Ecuador’s press and many high-profile international organizations have denounced supposed attempts by Correa to limit free speech in the media, citing a controversial 2013 Communication Law. Under the legislation news outlets can be fined or even shutdown for breaching regulations.
Last month the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media (Fundamedios), fell afoul of Ecuador’s media regulator, the National Communication Secretariat (Secom). Under the 2013 law, Secom ordered an investigation into Fundamedios activities and decided to withdraw its license.
Founded in 2007, the self-titled ‘media watchdog’, Fundamedios operates as organism to support journalists, monitor threats and issue alerts of attacks on press freedoms and free speech in Ecuador.
Since 2008 Fundamedios has issued 1320 alerts regarding freedom of expression and 135 governmental sanctions against media outlets and journalists under the controversial 2013 Communication Law. Secom’s case against the media observer was for violating its politically neutral status as non-profit by repeatedly posting pro-opposition content.
Secom claimed Fundamedios’ remit is to “promote social development through the media” and is therefore prohibited under Ecuadorian law as a non-profit organization, and by 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, cited 57 entries on Fundamedios’ Twitter account with links to what it believes were politically motivated materials.
Gracias a todo su apoyo y solidaridad. Notificación de que se archiva el proceso en contra de Fundamedios. pic.twitter.com/WzMhm7Er3T
— FUNDAMEDIOS (@FUNDAMEDIOS) September 25, 2015
However, in somewhat of an eleventh hour reprieve, Secom ceased the NGO’s closure after a request from Ecuador’s national ombudsman, Ramiro Rivadeneria, to halt proceedings.
Communications Secretary, Fernando Alvarado, commented in a statement, “We have read the ombudsman’s report and agree with the conclusions.” He continued, “We have a fair process for evaluating these situations and have concluded that we need to retract our earlier order.”
Rivadeneria also criticized Secom, in a meeting with Alvarado and Patricio Barriga, head of the Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (Cordicom). Despite the U-turn on Fundamedios, Secom still issued a ‘final warning’ to the NGO, ordering it to avoid partisan political practices and stressed the need for greater transparency regarding funding sources.
Fundamedios receives a significant proportion of its funding through U.S. governmental organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy. Fundamedios Director César Ricaurte, who delivered 45 statements from international organizations to Secom’s office, claims foreign pressure was pivotal in the government’s reversal.
Ricaurte also had conciliatory words: “We also appreciate the fact that the secretariat was open to changing its mind and give it credit for this,” Cuenca High Life reports.
— Ecuador Review (@EcuadorReview) October 2, 2015
At the time of Secom’s initial ruling, international groups were also at the forefront of denouncing the move. Freedom House and the Committee to Protect Journalists expressed dissatisfaction, as did U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.
Julian Assange joins the debate
Despite international condemnation, several important individuals and industry bodies within Ecuador, and Latin America, including two of Ecuador’s leading journalistic bodies and famous whistle blower Julian Assange, had already publicly questioned Fundimedios’ legitimacy as a non-partisan media watchdog in 2012.
The Latin American news agency, teleSur, also released a damning 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.
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