Ecuadorian regulatory agency says Bonil cartoon is not discriminatory; LGBTQ activists work to improve coverage

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  • February 24, 2016

By Jesus Nazario and Teresa Mioli

In the midst of efforts by civil society to improve dialogue between the LGBTQ community and media, the Ecuadorian government has determined that a cartoon by El Universo cartoonist Xavier Bonilla, known as Bonil, which appeared to comment on gender identity, is not discriminatory.

The cartoon, published in newspaper El Universo on Dec. 28, 2015, depicted a woman asking a pregnant woman: “What will it be? Man or woman?” The pregnant woman responds: “I don’t know. We must wait to see which it chooses on the identity card.”

It was an apparent reference to a bill proposed in Ecuador that would change the word “sex” to “gender” on official identification cards.  Proponents of the bill said it allows people to self-identify their own gender, according to Ecuavisa.

On Jan. 20, Ecuador’s media regulatory agency, the Superintendency of Information and Communication (Supercom), admitted a complaint against El Universo and Bonilla for alleged failure to comply with Article 62 of the Law of Communication, which prohibits the diffusion of discriminatory content. The complaint was filed on behalf of the Ecuadorian Federation of LGBTQ Organizations.

In order for Supercom to issue a resolution and sanction the paper or Bonilla, the Council of Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (Cordicom) would need to create a detailed report, according to El Universo.

However, on Feb. 19, Cordicom determined that the cartoon does not contain discriminatory content.

Newspaper La Hora noted that Cordicom member Paulina Mogrovejo said the decision does not mean “that we agree with the treatment of communications content that in some way can distort a message, or affect the historic fight of the LGBTQ community.”

She added that the resolution was meant to “dismantle the myths” of persecution or the silencing of the press, La Hora reported.

While this administrative process played out, a conversation between activists and journalists was taking place in reaction to treatment of the LGBTQ in the wider news media community.

Ecuadorian LGBTQ activists and human rights organizations officially launched the social media campaign, #MiVozConElPeriodismo (My Voice with Journalism) on Jan. 20, calling for collaboration with journalists and media outlets.

The initiative comes after activists said there were a surge "baseless" claims against the media, such as Bonilla's case, according to publication El Universo.

The campaign, launched by the Ecuadorian Observatory for Collective and Minority Human Rights, Its Gets Better Ecuador and other human rights organizations, aimed to emphasize the importance of cooperation between the LGBTQ community and journalists, according to a video posted by El Universo.

Diana Maldonado, with the Ecuadorian Observatory for Collective and Minority Human Rights, said the campaign was created not only to address cases like Bonilla’s, but also what is happening to journalism throughout the country.

The [#MiVozConElPeriodismo] campaign seeks to support journalists because the organizers realized actions taken by a faction of the LGBTQ community in Ecuador were divisive, Maldonado said in a Feb. 2 interview with the Knight Center for Journalists in the Americas.

Maldonado said journalists should not be afraid to ask questions. “If there is some kind of error, well look, this error can be fixed by talking it out and not denouncing it,” she said.

Pamela Troya, an Ecuadorian LGBTQ activist, said in a column for digital site 4pelagatos that lawsuits and complaints brought on by factions in the LGBTQ community could result in self-censorship of journalists and other media outlets for fear of persecution by Supercom and burn bridges between journalists and LGBTQ activists.

Since the hashtag #MiVozConElPeriodismo first appeared on Twitter on Jan. 12, social media users have used it to promote the campaign and demonstrate support.

Also circulating on social media were banners with personal statements from LGBTQ activists explaining how journalism has affected their lives. One said "Homophobic bullying kills and the only way to combat it is through information. Journalists are our allies."

All banners had an underlying text that said, “Good journalism destroys prejudices, reveals our humanity and connects us all.”

Since the news conference that launched the campaign, multiple newspapers like El UniversoExtra, and El Comercio have reached out to LGBTQ organizers and asked to facilitate workshops with journalists on how to cover LGBTQ issues, Maldonado said.

Additionally, the Ecuadorian Observatory for Collective and Minority Human Rights released a guide to help journalists and media outlets cover LGBTQ communities.

“Media serve, like the campaign says, to amplify our voice,” Maldonado said. “Our causes, our fights, would not have had, the outcomes and the repercussions they had, if it had not been for the intervention of the media.”

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.