Participants from the four Ecuadorean media organisations that take part of the SMS programme (El Universo, La Hora, El Diario and PlanV), as well as executives from several radio and TV stations, participated in the drafting of the Freedom of Expression Roadmap 2017-2019 together with Ecuador’s Association of Newspaper Editors (AEDEP) and Fundamedios, Ecuador’s main press freedom organisation. The document proposes recommended actions that should be taken by the future government and encourages legislative and judicial branches to eliminate the legal restrictions that currently limit access to information and public debate. It also commits news organisations in adopting best practices according to international standards.
The demands that will be delivered to the next government include: abolishing the most restrictive elements of the 2013 Communications Law and crafting the law according to recommendations of the UN Human Rights Commission and the Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression; suspending the current process to assign radio and TV frequencies and re-launching the process following international standards for transparency and impartiality; ceasing the use of terrorism and sabotage charges against journalists; regulating government advertisement to ensure transparency, pluralism and fairness; adopting a policy to develop "Open Data" in the public sector; reforming the system of public media to professionalize it and stop its use for political purposes; and adopting the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
The roadmap was presented at an open panel discussion at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar on 1 February, with the participation of the two SMS participants Luis Eduardo Vivanco (Editor-in-Chief of La Hora) and Xavier Bonilla (Cartoonist at El Universo) as well as Andrés D’Alessandro (Executive Director of Argentina’s Association of Newspaper Enterprises, ADEPA), who was invited to share his experience of aggression towards the media in Argentina during the Kirchner era.
Vivanco described the challenges of an editor under the restrictive Communications Law from 2013. The law limits the amount of information that a news organisation can publish or broadcast. He explained that journalists can be prosecuted for simply printing information, and that the law inhibits the publication of material that might be in public interest. A consequence, he says, is that “silence has become normal”. He also pointed out that a strategy by the government of president Rafael Correa has been to disparage journalists, “to the point that we are regarded as something lesser than rats”. He hopes that the roadmap will serve as a protection mechanism for the future. “The roadmap will help us prevent that this happens again, it will help Ecuadorean society to learn from this experience”, he concluded.
Bonilla complimented Ecuadorean journalists for their strength in resisting a decade of restrictions and finding innovative ways to keep working despite the oppressive climate, for example by moving from print to digital. He is optimistic about the future, but says that the main challenge for journalists is to “empower themselves”.
D'Alessandro could identify with the experiences of his Ecuadorian colleagues, which reminded him of the restrictive media laws and policies in Argentina under the governments of Nestor and Cristina Kirchner. According to him, the best way for journalists to fight back is to professionalise and adopt international standards and best practices. D'Alessandro advised to develop a clear long-term strategy and prevent it from being drowned by short-term agendas that might appear more urgent. He described this as a key to success in resisting government pressure and stopping its attempts to build media hegemony.
The session was closed with the presentation of the roadmap that AEDEP and Fundamedios delivered to representatives of the political candidates running in February’s election, in the hope to promote the presidential candidates’ commitment to easing restrictions on press freedom and promoting openness and transparency.
You can find the Roadmap here (in Spanish).