Friday, October 16, 2015

Ecuador's Fundamedios at the Center of International Fight for Freedom of the Press

The beginning of an administrative process to shut down the Fundación Andina para la Observación y Estudio de Medios (FUNDAMEDIOS), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that works to promote and protect the right to free expression and association, alerted civil society organizations to the start of new restrictions on these rights and the danger that other organizations could be forced to close. While the reaction of domestic and foreign organizations—including a statement by four UN rapporteurs and the Organization of American States (OAS)—forced the Secretaría Nacional de Comunicación (SECOM) to shelve the case already underway, the risk for civil society organizations remained because of the arbitrary way cases can be opened or closed to fit the political convenience of the government. -from NotiSur, October 16, 2010

By Jake Sandler
In 2006, a group of Ecuadoran journalists, anthropologists, economists and architects organized themselves formally in an effort to improve the quality and integrity of the nation’s journalistic output. This was the seed of the organization called Fundamedios, according to the organization's’ official Web site.  Once the effort began to gain traction and support from almost every corner of academia, social activism and community watchgroups, the new organization assumed the role of independent observer to ensure the quality of print publications and broadcast media outlets.

Soon, the young organization realized that the most significant obstacle to quality of journalism was liberty; if too many journalists feel scared and intimidated (by the government, by corporations, by organized crime, etc.) to write and report the full depth and degree of their stories, then the quality and integrity of the overall media output will continue to suffer tremendously. And so Fundamedios formed itself as an organization focused specifically on working to keep tabs on the activities of hired thugs and other actors that work to threaten, violently or otherwise, the liberty for journalistic work. Each year, Fundamedios watched its registro de agresiónes (register of aggressions) continue to grow  to an irrevocable point of reckoning – there was now an empirical and accessible list of proof of all the journalists who have been or are being actively repressed. In 2008, the young register project identified 23 cases of repression. In 2009: 103, 2010: 151 cases, until 2013 when they registered a startling 174 cases of aggressions against journalists.

International attention
Finally, after the government gave absolutely no action or acknowledgement of the complaints and evidence that Fundamedios was reporting, the organization went to international human rights groups, including the UN. After the international community began wagging its finger at the Ecuadoran government, President Rafael Correa's administration began cracking down on the organization itself, and Fundamedios found itself the subject of the same threats and active repression that was being wielded against the journalists on the Fundamedios’ register.

The more reports that Fundamedios would supply to the international community, the heavier the threats and repression from the Ecuadoran government became. The most successful action taken by the government to quiet the group was its own propaganda, designed to convince the public that the Fundamedios group was undermining liberty and had too much control of the press. Under these auspices, the government began legally chipping away at the power of Fundamedios to exist. However, the impact on the international community was felt strongly, and many groups including the UN continue to battle with the Ecuadoran government on behalf of Fundamedios’ right to exist.

Because so many other nations in the world face the same grave problems of freedom of the press, not only in Latin America, the impact of Fundamedios has influenced the growth of similar groups, as well as the growth of action by the international community to combat such repressive tactics. In Ecuador, due in large part to international pressure, the government’s plans to shut down Fundamedios have been abandoned, at least for now.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Uruguay Opposes TiSA and Effort by U.S., European Union to Control the Flow of Digital Information

The strong domestic dispute that, during the first six months of Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez’s term, muddied the waters of the Frente Amplio (FA) ended in early September. On Sept. 7, the president and his ministers adopted as their own the recommendations from an FA congress and closed the controversial negotiations on Uruguay’s eventual participation in the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), an accord promoted by some of the biggest US and European service-industry corporations.   NotiSur, October 2, 2015

By Jake Sandler
On the surface, the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) appears to be a tool to renovate and enhance the services sector of existing international trade agreements, particularly the more ephemeral and immaterial aspects of global services commerce such as the trade and migration of digital information and Internet services across national borders. Therefore, we might think of TiSA as a transnational data-flow agreement.

TiSA’s overall promotional framework is that the agreement would stimulate the growth of the services sector (by far the most robust and important sector of the US, EU and many other highly developed nations’ economies) by opening up channels of access and better regulating for fair practices.

However, this agreement--predominantly designed and pushed by the US and the EU, along with Taiwan, Israel, Chile and New Zealand--has come under harsh criticism for its suspicious focus on regulation mechanisms to control of information flow. This is a subject that whistleblower Edward Snowden has made so potent a topic for many people throughout leftist communities in the Western hemisphere.

Uruguay’s recent decision under President Tambaré Vázquez of the leftist Frente Amplio coalition to drop out of the deal is highly representative of the general criticism of the agreement. The decision of  the Vázquez administration is certainly not motivated by economic interest, as Uruguay would likely benefit from new opportunities to invest overseas and new markets for exporting their own services. Uruguay views TiSA as a threat to information privacy and freedom of information. The South American country also fears that this deal would give the US and the EU a disproportionately strong amount of control over international data flow.

With Uruguay decision to drop out, six other Latin American countries remain part of TiSA: Chile, Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, and Panama.

Controversy, WikiLeaks
In June of 2014, WikiLeaks released a document from the TiSA negotiations called the "Financial Services Annex," This document reveals that the talks were shrouded in secrecy, a clear departure from the World Trade Organization’s traditional template. The break-away group of  WTO nations  conducting the TiSA talks, led by the US and the EU, is often referred to as the Real Good Friends of Services Club.

Furthermore the WikiLeaks report investigation found that:
  • TiSA is designed for and in close consultation with the global finance industry, whose greed and recklessness has been blamed for successive crises and which continues to dominate rulemaking in global institutions.
  • A sample of provisions from this leaked text show that governments signing on to TiSA will: be expected to lock in and extend their current levels of financial deregulation and liberalisation; lose the right to require data to be held onshore; face pressure to authorise potentially toxic insurance products; and risk a legal challenge if they adopt measures to prevent or respond to another crisis.

Ban on Access to Source Codes 
TiSA also contains stipulations that require an open access for source codes of all member nations. For example, the Mayor of Munich has already taken the step of making a mandatory switch of all public systems to open source systems like LibreOffice or OpenOffice.While this can be considered a part of the framework of creating openness and transparency, the second edge of the blade is that it also knocks down national and subnational barriers of protection against the reach of other nations into their own public information flow.