Ecuadoran government starts a process to shut down Fundamedios, a freedom of expression advocate NGO

In imminent danger of being shut down by the Ecuadoran government, one of the only voices monitoring freedom of expression and the state of journalism in that country vows to keep working.

On September 8, the Ecuadoran government notified the Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study, or Fundamedios, that it was beginning the process of dissolving the organization.

The National Communications Secretariat (Secom for its acronym in Spanish) said that Fundamedios has not complied with a statute prohibiting it, as a social organization, from exercising political activities. They pointed to content and links published in the organization’s official accounts and publications.

In its correspondence to Fundamedios, Secom included screenshots of Fundamedios’ posts on Twitter referring to the blogs of political journalists such as José Hernandez (sentidocomunecuador.com) and Roberto Aguilar (estadodepropaganda.com). Both journalists are critical of the government.

"It seems that for Secom political journalism equals to partisan politics," Fundamedios Executive Director César Ricaurte told El Comercio newspaper. He added that the allegation is "absurd."

In a press conference on September 9, Ricaurte rejected again the accusations that the organization participates in partisan politics.

Secom gave Fundamedios 10 days to mount a defense against the dissolution.

Fundamedios’ lawyer said the organization will use all legal resources possible to show the organization didn't commit the act for which it has been accused and that if necessary, they will use resources outside the country, Plan V reported. Yet, the lawyer said that the government has already decided the case.

Carlos Ponce, Freedom House program director for Latin America and the Caribbean, called the charges “politically motivated and glaring examples of the government’s lack of respect for freedom of speech.”

Carlos Lauría with the Committee to Protect Journalists also called the procedure "politically motivated" and urged authorities to withdraw it.

Ecuadoran journalist Martín Pallares, one of the journalists Fundamedios has spoken in support of, told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that the actions are part of the government’s work to control communication.

“I think that Fundamedios had become a platform to denounce the aggressions against the press, a center for the protection of journalists and an organism that was associated with outside organizations, thus undermining the image the government wants to project on the international level. Wiping out Fundamedios is then an important piece to further silence the press and independent journalists,” he added.

This is not the first sign of problems for Fundamedios; the organization has even dedicated a portion of its website to detailing government actions and its work.

On January 16, 2014, Secom notified Fundamedios that the freedom of expression organization was under its control; the following day, the government agency asked for all of its financial information, according to Fundamedios.

Most recently, on June 24, Secom issued a notice to Fundamedios in which it said the organization had moved into political issues and deviated from its stated objectives. The notice mentioned possible dissolution.

In response, Ricaurte said the organization is not partisan, but does work in the public interest.

"We will continue issuing alerts whether Secom likes them or not, even if they close us. We will continue to work from our houses. If they come with police to close our offices we will be here, you will find us here,” Ricaurte said at the time.

The mission of Fundamedios, which was started in 2006 by a group of journalists, economists, anthropologists, architects and others, is “to promote and protect the rights and freedoms of speech, press, access to information and association. As well as independent and quality journalism.”

The organization said it began with one of its “fundamental tasks” of monitoring freedom of expression in Ecuador after the government began a hostile discourse toward media in 2007.

It has published special reports concerning the state of freedom of expression and media in the country and its members have spoken at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about attacks on media, journalists and citizens. Fundamedios also posts daily alerts concerning those attacks and other challenges that journalists face when trying to carry out their work.

Fundamedios has been joined in recent years by other press advocates in publicizing the current situation of freedom of expression in Ecuador.

In the country, there have been 1305 aggressions against freedom of expression since 2008 and 126 sanctions against media and journalists under the controversial Law of Communication, according to Fundamedios.

That law created the Superintendency of Information and Communication, also known by the acronym Supercom, which regulates media. In the last two years, Supercom examined more than 500 cases against media outlets, punished 313 companies and applied fines of about USD $274,000. In some of these cases, Secom provided media outlets with exact text and layouts that were to be published in response to complaints.

Click here for more posts on the state of the press and freedom of expression in Ecuador.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.