Oslo, 13 April 2005 - The Oslo-based news agency afrol News today published the results of an internal investigation regarding alleged biased and unethical reporting on Equatorial Guinea, following a complaint by Presidential Spokesman Miguel Oyono. While the complaint, according to afrol News editor Pablo Gracia Sáez, had been presented as a threat, the news agency responded by scrutinising internal routines and ethical standards.
Mr Gracia, who is the responsible editor of afrol News' Spanish language edition, on Monday received a phone call from the Equatoguinean President's Spokesman, Mr Oyono. The Spokesman claimed that afrol News took part in "a press campaign against Equatorial Guinea" together with media such as 'El País' and the pro-democracy organisation ASODEGUE, both based in Madrid.
Mr Oyono claimed that afrol News' coverage of his country had provoked a discussion in the Equatoguinean cabinet. "We have been keeping an eye on afrol News," said the spokesman, and the cabinet meeting allegedly had decided to maintain a watchful eye with the agency's production. If our coverage of Equatorial Guinea would not change in character, Mr Oyono warned of "consequences" not defined.
"Given the wording and the tone, I clearly perceived this as a threat against me or against afrol News," comments Mr Gracia. He added that "the character of the regime in Equatorial Guinea certainly makes the situation uncomfortable." Equatorial Guinea is known for its systematic human rights violations and total disrespect of press freedom.
The Equatoguinean Spokesman in particular complained about an article published on 8 April, titled «La mujer es una 'mercancía lucrativa' en Guinea Ecuatorial, denuncia Nord – Sud» («Women are a lucrative commodity in Equatorial Guinea, accuses Nord-Sud». The article, written by afrol News' partner media 'El Muni', reports from the Geneva meeting of the UN's Human Rights Commission, where the organisation Nord-Sud denounced that the Equatoguinean government treats women as objects of pleasure and a lucrative commodity. The group claims that the government promotes the sex trade and trafficking of women to Spain.
Given the complaint from the Equatoguinean Presidency - and despite the threatening tone of it - afrol News immediately decided to launch a thorough internal investigation into whether the Code of Ethics of the Norwegian Press had been violated by the news agency or by El Muni. After interviewing Pedro Nolasco, chief editor of the Valencia-based Equatoguinean newspaper, the results of the internal investigation today were published.
The investigation concludes that El Muni and afrol News acted in compliance with press ethics and indeed were obliged by press ethics to publish such grave allegations to help contribute to public debate. The investigation further laments that this information will not be widely distributed in Equatorial Guinea - where the issue primarily should be debated - due to the country's censorship of the press.
The Equatoguinean government Spokesman also had claimed that the article was biased because the views of his government had not been asked for. This, the investigation holds, is due to the unwillingness of the government so far to give afrol News and El Muni access to information or comments. Especially Mr Nolasco, who is the exiled leader of that country's dismantled free press association, is denied government comments. Signals by Mr Oyono that he from now on will be available to the press were welcomed by afrol News and El Muni.
Finally, the investigation noted that Mr Oyono, according to reports by 'Europa Press' and comments to Mr Gracia, currently is campaigning against several media and organisations, saying that the Spanish press' negative reporting on Equatorial Guinea was hampering bilateral ties with Spain. Earlier campaigns against Spain's state-owned Radio Exterior caused the Spanish government to close down its transmissions to Equatorial Guinea.
"The Equatoguinean government seems to try to use inadequate pressure to stop public debate about the country abroad," commented afrol News chief editor Rainer Chr. Hennig, who headed the investigation. "afrol News protests the threatening tone of Mr Oyono and maintains that the Norwegian code of press ethics obliges us to not 'yield to any pressure from anybody who might want to prevent open debates', which is clearly the case here."
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