He has been an advisor to ministers and companies. He is an expert in political communication and today is in charge of the Secretariat of Communication (Secom).
Andrés Michelena spoke with this newspaper about the report of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the reforms to the Organic Law of Communication. The CPJ highlights the turn the government has made in tolerance with criticism and respect for journalism. According to CPJ, there is a 180 degree turn in Moreno’s government.
What motivated President Lenin Moreno to take that turn?
A State in which repression prevails towards the media and journalists is not a democratic State. The Government of President Lenin Moreno, permanent defender of human rights and democracy, could not allow that they continue perpetrating practices against the rule of law.
We are at a key moment in national history; Freedom of expression is a human right and as a State we are obliged to guarantee it, but with responsibility on the part of the media.
The CPJ report highlights a climate of respect for the work of journalists and media. Does this contribute to the recovery of democracy in the country?
To speak of democracy, it is necessary to respect a fundamental right such as freedom of expression, only then can the media freely exercise their mission. Citizens must have access to quality information, based on freedom of expression. As the President has said, criticism contributes to the strengthening of democracy, it is free advice for those of us in the public administration.
CPJ notes that the President recognizes the vital role of free and independent media to investigate and uncover corruption. Does that include your own government?
Today, in a government in which openness to dialogue and freedom of expression prevail, the media have full support for reporting cases of corruption, previous governments, this government and those who come.
Moreno will dialogue within his movement to achieve the reform of the Organic Law of Communication (LOC)?
The reforms to the LOC were not made exclusively from the National Government, they are the compilation of the observations and contributions made by various actors who participated in all meetings with unions of journalists, academics, social organizations and the media, among others. It is not about negotiating, especially when we propose a proposal that has emerged from the dialogue with citizens and that seeks the national interest to recover a right that was taken from us.
CPJ notes that journalists still face pressure from officials.
How can the Executive avoid those pressures of its high cadres?
From the Executive there is no pressure on journalists. The President of the Republic has expressed his support for freedom of expression and the free exercise of this profession, journalism. If any member or official of the Government is carrying out practices away from these principles, the President himself should be informed.
Do you believe that public officials should refrain from filing criminal complaints for defamation against journalists?
The right to reply exists and must continue to exist. Going to the criminal field will always be an excessive measure, but our proposal preserves articles that protect the good name and honor of the people.
In addition, it gives key attributions to the Ombudsman’s Office to carry out its work in accordance with constitutional principles, which is precisely consistent with the protection of human rights. Public officials must be more tolerant of criticism and our behavior must be transparent and honest to avoid scandals in the exercise of work in the future.
The journalistic guilds are worried about the attributions that the Ombudsman’s Office will have. There is a suspicion that the legal structure of sanctions against media and journalists is maintained in the law.
Will it be like this?
The reform proposal presented by the Executive eliminates the punitive regime of the law. That implies the suppression of its institutionality, embodied in the Supercom. The Ombudsman assumes the corresponding rights to communication and information, does not represent in any way assume the structure and functions of Supercom, as it is eliminated.
The Ombudsman executes a constitutional attribution that is to guarantee the right to communication and information. The Presidency cannot abolish the Communication Law, but it can reduce the priority of its application, through a presidential decree.
Why hasn’t the Government not opted for this way?
It has adopted it in the best way. In five years the Supercom made 755 penalties. During the exercise of the government of President Lenin Moreno there has only been one. The Constitution, approved in 2008, established, through a transitory provision, that there is a law to guarantee the rights of communication.
Equally, the Ecuadorian people favorably pronounced themselves in the popular consultation of 2011. In that sense, there must be a law. However, as an executive we have proposed reforms so that there is no abuse and discretion of power over the journalistic exercise.
The UNP considers that some articles of the law are ambiguous and open to flexible interpretation. For example, articles 61 and 66 that prohibit the publication of discriminatory and violent content that denote the intentional use of force. We propose a proposal on the table to open the public and legislative debate.
All observations are welcome for the treatment in the National Assembly and, later, the last revision that will go through a possible partial veto that gathers the observations of all those involved. It is essential to remember that as part of the policy of national dialogue, the Secom (Secretariat of Communication) has held 19 meetings at the national level to receive comments from all sectors, through dialogue tables, academic events and presentations.
It is a legal approach that reflects the aspirations of multiple voices.
For CPJ, another sensitive element is to eliminate any rule that censures journalists. How to ratify that principle in the debate?
You cannot censor the work of journalists. Free journalism pays heavily for the consolidation of a democratic regime. It should only be paid in the subsequent responsibility, as a mechanism that any professional in any branch has regarding his work. (I)