CPJ Insider: April 2018 edition

“CPJ Insider,” which was recently renamed from “CPJ Highlights,” is CPJ’s monthly newsletter that brings you behind-the-scenes updates on CPJ’s work around the world.

CPJ travels to Ecuador to meet with journalists, leaders

A CPJ delegation meets with the office of Andrés Michelena, Ecuador's secretary of communication. (Office of Andrés Michelena)
A CPJ delegation meets with the office of Andrés Michelena, Ecuador’s secretary of communication. (Office of Andrés Michelena)

In March, a CPJ delegation traveled to Ecuador to meet with journalists, civil society groups, and government leaders and call for reform of the country’s communications law, one of the most repressive pieces of media legislation in the region.

Here, a Q&A with Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s South and Central Americas research associate, who set up the trip and participated in the mission:

Why was Ecuador a focus for CPJ?

CPJ has been advocating on behalf of journalists in Ecuador for years. In 2011, we published a report on press freedom under then President Rafael Correa, one of the most destructive leaders in the region in terms of a free press. Correa set the tone for other repressive countries. He led outrageous lawsuits against journalists, established ridiculous fines–he was very public in his disdain for the press.

His vice-president, Lenín Moreno, took office in May, and everyone expected he would continue this trend of Correismo. But we started to see this clear break with Correa’s legacy. Moreno was making changes–he was reaching out to journalists and he wasn’t using Ecuador’s abusive institutions in the same way.

So we sensed there was an opportunity. One of the main things for which we were advocating was reform to the country’s 2013 communications law, which was used to harass journalists and media outlets and establish patterns of self-censorship. That law is still on the books.

Who went with you and with whom did you meet?

The CPJ delegation consisted of Joel [Simon, CPJ’s executive director], John [Otis, CPJ’s Andes correspondent], and advisers Anya [Schiffrin, professor at Columbia University in New York and a member of CPJ’s Leadership Council] and Ricardo [Uceda, director of the Peruvian press freedom organization Instituto Prensa y Sociedad and a CPJ Americas Advisory Group member].

We met with a range of journalists, primarily from the few private media outlets that are left. We were in Guayaquil, where we spoke to journalists from El Universo, one of Correa’s primary targets. We also went to Quito, where we met with journalists from the daily El Comercio as well as from Teleamazonas and Ecuavisa, two private TV outlets that suffered harassment under Correa. We spoke to Janet Hinostroza, a TV reporter and CPJ’s 2013 International Press Freedom Award winner. Joel also appeared on her show.

You also had meetings with government officials. What were those like?

The delegation met with a lawmaker in Ecuador’s National Assembly, which has been involved in proposals to reform the communications law, and with individuals from the state media regulatory body CORDICOM. We also met with Andrés Michelena, Ecuador’s secretary of communication. Michelena was formerly an aide to Moreno, and, as far as we understand, they’re still very close. That was a good opportunity to get a read on what the president’s approach to press freedom may be.

When we presented our concerns and suggestions to him, Michelena made some commitments to us. He said the government would invite the special rapporteurs on freedom of expression of the United Nations David Kaye and of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Edison Lanza to visit and do an analysis of the press freedom environment and make some suggestions. Michelena said they expected to send the letters in a few weeks.

Michelena also said Moreno would consider making a speech on the importance of press freedom and clarifying his position toward the media, ideally for May 3, which is World Press Freedom Day. We’ll be following up to see how we can make sure that happens.

That’s a big deal. What’s next for CPJ on Ecuador?

We’re planning on publishing a special report on our findings. Stay tuned!

Press freedom incidents in the U.S. in March

A still from the front page of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
A still from the front page of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

In March, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented six press freedom incidents in the United States.

In one of the cases, journalist Ken Lovett was arrested while speaking on his cellphone in the New York State Senate lobby. Lovett was later released and no charges filed against him.

In early March, a high school coach in Arkansas was arrested after he threatened a TV reporter for KARK/Fox 16. In Kentucky, a police spokesperson threatened to cut off press access for a newspaper and a radio station if they did not comply with an order to stop reporting on a police investigation. In San Diego in mid-March, TV news reporter Bree Steffen was attacked while broadcasting live. She injured her wrist, and a photographer’s camera was broken.

Another journalist, Samantha Baars, was subpoenaed to testify in the trial of a protest organizer who was charged with perjury. Baars said that allowing the subpoena to proceed would have adversely impacted her newsroom. The subpoena was later quashed. And in another incident, Heather Nauert, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, refused to answer a question from a Russian TV reporter at a briefing. Watch the video here.

The Tracker documented at least 122 press freedom incidents in the United States in 2017, and the results are chilling. At least 45 physical attacks took place in the United States last year, 30 of them while journalists were covering protests. Two of the journalists were assaulted by politicians. The Tracker documented at least 34 arrests of journalists.

Must-reads in March

In a blog post on March 15, CPJ’s U.S. correspondent, Avi Asher-Schapiro, wrote about how journalists covering white supremacists in the U.S. must first weigh the risks to themselves and their families. One Newsweek reporter, he wrote, saw an anonymous post last year that urged someone to “throw a Molotov cocktail through his parents’ window.”

Following a trip to Poland, Attila Mong, CPJ’s EU correspondent, wrote about how some journalists still fear the worst is yet to come. The extent to which freedom of the press is enjoyed in Poland is in doubt, Mong wrote, “with many journalists saying authorities are trying to impose new restrictions on their right to work freely.”

CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney wrote in March about how, following the murders of Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in October and Ján Kuciak in Slovakia in February, investigative journalists are fighting back “with the weapon they wield best–journalism.”

In a blog post in March, CPJ’s advocacy director, Courtney Radsch, highlighted concerns by media outlets on new notices on the channels of state- and publicly-funded news outlets that were quietly rolled out by Google’s YouTube, the latest development in the information wars waging between Russia and the United States.

Press freedom in Ethiopia backslides again

In last month’s edition of this newsletter, we were thrilled to announce that Ethiopia had released journalists from prison. “Free from chains!” wrote one blogger, Eskinder Nega, who was freed after nearly seven years.

Ethiopia seemed to be taking steps toward political reform. Then, suddenly, Ethiopian authorities on March 25 arrested five journalists, including Eskinder and three members of the Zone 9 collective, who were charged with terrorism in 2014. The Zone 9 bloggers were honored with CPJ’s 2015 International Press Freedom Award.

The world took notice of this new round of arrests. CPJ published a statement calling for Ethiopian authorities to release the journalists. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio reached out to CPJ, asking for information on Eskinder’s case. We provided it to him. Then, on March 30, the senator tweeted his support of Eskinder. “I urge the Ethiopian government to release him and other political prisoners #ExpressionNOTOppression,” he wrote.

The journalists remain behind bars. “Our condition in prison is inhuman, to say the least,” Eskinder wrote from prison. “Not a single human being deserves this, regardless of the crime, let alone us who were detained unjustly. The global community should be aware of such a case and use every possible means to bring an end to our suffering.”

CPJ in the news

Dictators love Trump, and he loves them,” The New York Times

Flake cannot win in Trump’s GOP, and that’s the problem,” The Washington Post

CPJ: Ecuador agrees to reform controversial communications law,” El Universo (Spanish)

CPJ sees change in media outlook after Correa’s ‘repressive scheme’,” La República (Spanish)

Ecuador’s hangover,” Columbia Journalism Review

Welcome to Veracruz, Mexico, one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist,” The Nation

Another journalist has been gunned down in Mexico,” Los Angeles Times

Mexico journalist shot dead in Gulf state of Veracruz,” The Guardian