Fighting for press freedom in Ecuador

Janet Hinostroza is one of four international journalists being honored by CPJ at this year's press freedom awards ceremony

Every year, the Committee to Protect Journalists presents the International Press Freedom Awards to four reporters who have produced outstanding coverage in the face of restrictive government policies, threats, and imprisonment. On Tuesday evening, CPJ will recognize the awardees for 2013: Nguyen Van Hai (Dieu Cay, Vietnam), Janet Hinostroza (Teleamazonas, Ecuador), Nedim ┼×ener (Posta, Turkey), and Bassem Youssef (Capital Broadcast Center, Egypt). Paul Steiger, the founding editor of ProPublica and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, will receive CPJ’s Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for lifetime achievement in support of press freedom.

CJR spoke to television anchor, radio host, and reporter Janet Hinostroza about the challenges to press freedom in Ecuador. The interview was conducted with a translator and has been edited for clarity.

What was your reaction to being honored with this award?
It was both a surprise and an honor to receive the award. And it was also very important, because it means that the international community is looking into what’s going on in Ecuador in terms of press freedom conditions.

What are the biggest issues in Ecuador with regards to freedom of the press?
We have a government in Ecuador that’s not interested in having a free press, and it’s a government that has made confrontation of the press a state policy. It has employed different tactics to silence the press, including regulations and legislation. And you know, it’s a government that wants to do many good things for people but is violating the law. So that’s why they need a silent press.

How would you characterize the media in Ecuador right now? Your program is covering some controversial topics, but are there other programs like yours?
My program is the only investigative show currently on the air in Ecuador. But at the same time, I recognize that I cannot air very controversial issues as I did in the past. Because, for example, the government has banned officials from talking to the press, and it’s not allowing access to information. So television today is mostly dedicated to entertainment.

How do you get your information then, if so many routes are closed to you?
In every state institution, there are people that are not happy. And that’s one of the main sources of information. But they are always anonymous sources. There are some journalists that are taking risks to publish that information relying on those sources. They’re running the risk this time of being sanctioned by this new law enacted in June, the communications law, which is really regressive.

What does that law say?
It establishes new prohibitions, new concepts like “media lynching.” It considers “media lynching” a concerted effort of media and journalists to damage the reputation of a public institution or an individual. For example, if I break some story about corruption of a public official or a public entity, and that investigation is followed by another outlet— according to this law, they’re making a concerted effort to disseminate information that damages the reputation of an individual or entity. That can be subject to penal sanctions. It doesn’t take into account if the information is true or false, just the concerted effort to disseminate this kind of information.

What do you think are some of the most important stories in Ecuador right now that need to be covered by the press?
There’s a lot of public works at this time—a lot of oil contracts that are being negotiated with China, for example. The press doesn’t have a possibility to cover these stories. There’s no way for the press to report on the real cost of those public works. Corruption issues are really a matter of public interest, and the press has a lot of difficulty reporting on those stories. Corruption has been one of the main causes of poverty. The government is now saying that it’s fighting to reduce poverty, but corruption is growing astronomically.

In trying to cover some of those controversial issues, you’ve already faced a lot of obstacles. You’ve had to take a leave of absence, you’ve been the target of threats, you’ve dealt with intrusions into your broadcast by the government—how do you plan to deal with those challenges in the future, and what have you learned?
The immediate future is really grim. Not because we are afraid, just because media owners don’t want to lose their relationships. We’re trying to get organized to see which way we can follow.

What are your goals for your future reporting?
I would like to find a way to continue to do investigative work. And also looking for opportunities in the international press, so that the world and international community can really know what’s going on in Ecuador.

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Naomi Sharp is a CJR intern Tags: , , ,