New York, August 9, 2016 – The Ecuadoran communications regulator should rescind all measures against the broadcaster Teleamazonas and journalist Janet Hinostroza, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Regulators yesterday sanctioned the station and the journalist for “media lynching” in relation to investigative reports into the government’s purchase of medical supplies.
According to a copy of the decision, which CPJ has reviewed, the media regulator Supercom determined that Teleamazonas had engaged in the “media lynching” (“linchamiento mediático“) of Ecuador’s Public Contracting Service in at least eight separate occasions between January and July on the program “Breakfast 24 Hours” and “24 Hours,” with investigative reports alleging the service’s practices could lead to the distribution of substandard medicines. Supercom ordered Teleamazonas to air at least eight public apologies. Ecuador’s communications law defines “media lynching” as the repeated publication of material in order to damage someone’s reputation or credibility. The regulator found that Hinostroza, who was awarded CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2013, distorted and failed to contextualize information, and gave her a warning.
“‘Media lynching’ is one of the most patently bizarre violations imagined by Ecuador’s restrictive communications law,” said Carlos Lauría, senior program coordinator for the Americas at CPJ. “It is a ridiculous and clear attempt by authorities to censor news of public interest.”
In his August 6 weekly television address, President Rafael Correa called Hinostroza a “bad journalist” who “took sides in favor of her interests.” Certain television stations, he said, “want to abuse their power in order to put an end to institutions and defend corporate interests.” The president said that he was glad for the communications law and its ban on “media lynching,” according to an alert by the Ecuadoran free-expression group Fundamedios.
Supercom’s decision had not yet been released when Correa spoke, but the signed decision is dated August 4.
In the decision, lawyers for the Ecuador Public Contracting Service are quoted as saying, “Teleamazonas has distorted and decontextualized information that they have presented, information that does not have any legal or technical basis, and whose only purpose is to damage the reputation of the Ecuador Public Contracting Service, by way of the process for corporate reverse auctions for medicines.”
Lawyers for the public agency alleged that, although officials from the agency were interviewed, they were not given space to give official figures or information about the contracting process and that the number of external voices outweighed the number of official commentators invited onto the station.
“What I did was gather all the possible information, including the position of the authorities,” Hinostroza told CPJ. “It is a basic norm of good journalism to collect all of the points of view about a topic that you investigate, but the authority believes that it can impose its word as the only true and valid one.”
“All of this process and the absurd conclusion demonstrate that in Ecuador, you can’t do investigative journalism, that the Communications Law is made to shut up journalists who make the authorities uncomfortable,” Hinostroza said.
Telephone calls to Supercom in the afternoon on August 9 went unanswered. A spokeswoman for Ecuador’s Public Contracting Service referred CPJ to a statement published on the service’s website. That statement said: “In this decision, the institution that safeguards the rights of information and communication explained in detail the arguments and evidence presented by the SERCOP, which show that said media outlet violated the right of citizens to receive truthful, verified, timely, accurate and contextualized information on the acquisition of medicine.”
Ecuador’s 2013 Communications Law has stifled investigative reporting and suppressed coverage of authorities, CPJ research has found. Ecuador has one of the worst press freedom records in the region, with journalists subject to legal measures, defamation suits, and public insults from officials, according to CPJ research.