Ecuador’s Media Watchdog Bites Back

The government of Ecuador is at it again. There’s something about the news media that to the administration of President Rafael Correa is like the proverbial red cape in front of a bull.

On Sept. 8, the government’s Communications Secretary informed the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media (Fundamedios) that it had begun the process of dissolving the organization–Ecuador’s only press-monitoring NGO­–because it was engaging in political activity, a reference to the alerts Fundamedios issues about acts of aggression toward  the press.

By taking this step, the Communications Secretary is in effect acting as both prosecutor and judge of Fundamedios’s alleged misconduct.

Fundamedios has decided to fight back. This week, at a media forum in Quito organized by Fundamedios and the Inter-American Press Association with support from several other organizations, including CIMA, Fundamedios Executive Director Cesar Ricaurte said the organization will exercise its “right of resistance.” The group will continue its work in its offices regardless of the government’s order to shut down. “Let them come and get us,” Ricaurte said.

At the end of the forum, participating organizations issued a 15-point declaration calling for action to defend Fundamedios from the government’s move, including asking the rapporteurs for freedom of expression and association and international human rights NGOs to lend their support to for Fundamedios.

The declaration also calls for international delegations to visit the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Corporación Andina de Fomento, and other multilateral bodies “with the objective of informing them of the state of human rights and press freedom in Ecuador, for them to take this information into account at the time of providing assistance to the country.”

The Ecuadoran government’s move against Fundamedios is but the latest in a string of attacks against the country’s media. In a report issued at the conference, Fundamedios said it has counted 279 instances of attacks on the press so far this year and 1,310 between 2008 and last July. These attacks are a serious matter, even when they seem ridiculous, such as ordering well-known editorial cartoonist Xavier Bonilla to draw a cartoon “correcting” an earlier cartoon the government didn’t like. Absurd, but in the context of the current situation Ecuador’s media find themselves, no laughing matter.

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