World Association of News Publishers

"100 Dias del Terremoto"

"100 Dias del Terremoto"

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The earthquake that devastated parts of Ecuador on April 16 left nearly 700 dead and more than 27,000 missing, making it the worst natural disaster the country has seen since the 1949 Ambato earthquake.


By Colette Davidson

But in the aftermath of the quake, scores of victims were either not accounted for or misrepresented in government totals. In June, at the World News Media Congress in Cartagena, Colombia, a group of journalists from various Ecuadorian media outlets came together in WAN-IFRA-led media freedom workshops in an unprecedented show of solidarity to create “100 Dias del Terremoto” – an initiative to use watchdog journalism to investigate the government’s handling of the earthquake.

Eleven journalists from three of Ecuador’s primary news outlets, El Universo, La Hora and El Diario, worked together to produce a comprehensive report of the true nature of the disaster 100 days following the quake. They collected information from communities to try to establish the exact number of victims as well as record their names, ID numbers, birthplace and other personal details.

The team also worked to keep tabs on the government’s rescue and clean-up efforts, addressing the issue of rubble removal, the lack of seismic maps, the psychological damage from the quake and communities in rural areas who never received basic services – despite the outpouring of international aid.

“The Ecuadorian government had talked about a rapid response in order to help victims and it received a lot of money from abroad,” says Fernando Astudillo, a journalist at El Universo. “[But we were asking questions like] ‘Where is all this money?’ ‘How can we track it and be sure that it is going, in a fast and efficient way, to the ones that need help desperately?’”

 Each newspaper played a different and vital role in the project, providing its own expertise. Journalists at El Universo were responsible for watchdog journalism and data analysis, checking the names of victims and making sure the list fit with the government’s official one. They also created a data analysis map (in Spanish) for readers to cross reference information. La Hora attempted to track people down who may have been listed as missing but in fact had moved inside the country to start life again.

Meanwhile, journalists at El Diario had a herculean task on their hands, due to the fact that their offices are located at the crux of the disaster, in Portoviejo in the Manabi region.

“[We created] a memorial for the deceased, with the list that the government did not want to publicize and the psychological pain people experienced,” says Carlos Garcia, the editor of the Manabi section at El Diario. “[We also worked on] seismic maps, an economic radiograph of Manabi and Esmeraldas, stories of those who lost their businesses, the migration phenomenon post-quake and those who never received help.”

It was important for the three media outlets to spread efforts in so many directions because, say participating journalists, the official reports of the event were missing basic information or simply weren’t as comprehensive as they could have been.

“We found a lot of mistakes that the government had made,” says Luis Vivanco, a journalist at La Hora who worked on the project. “Part of the problem is that when the tragedy happened, people buried bodies but didn’t go to the police to report that someone had died.”

The journalists from the three papers combined their reports and published them as a four-day special. In addition, Medios Ediasa used its different platforms to publish exclusive content for local audiences. Journalists only had one face-to-face meeting, relying on Google Drive’s cloud system to share information.

In Ecuador’s political landscape, which has imposed limitations on freedom of the press in recent years – most notably in the form of a controversial 2013 Communications law – journalists who participated in “100 Dias del Terremoto” were expecting a major political fallout for having put into question the government’s account of the earthquake. Instead, the government issued no official response to the new reports.

“Here in Ecuador, we have very little freedom of the press and we were expecting the government to say we were lying or that the figures weren’t accurate,” says La Hora’s Vivanco. “But the biggest response we got was the government’s lack of response. I suppose they found that what we did was okay.”

The feedback from communities, however, was striking, with many taking to social media to express their gratitude. “In Manabi province, people said that it was important that papers continued with these kinds of stories because they feel that there hasn’t been enough help and that there are villages where, as time passes, the situation is actually getting worse,” says El Universo’s Astudillo.

El Diario’s Garcia adds that communities in Manabi were happy that the truth was finally coming out. “For many people, there was a feeling that we had provided a public space where the reality of what happened in Manabi could be known at a national level.”

While the positive effects of 100 Dias del Terremoto on the communities affected by the earthquake and Ecuador in general were obvious, it also provided an opportunity for the country’s media to put aside any competitiveness and work together in solidarity – a highly uncommon practice in the media landscape. Despite what could have resulted in a fight for the best and flashiest front page news, participating journalists say there was none of that.

“There was no jealousy between us,” says Vivanco. “We didn’t have any problem working together. Because of the political challenges in our country, we are in the same fight every single day – to protect freedom.”



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2016-11-30 15:54

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...