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.

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