Ecuador: HRF condemns systematic restrictions on press freedom

Human Rights Foundation
( New York. – The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) condemns the systematic attacks on press freedom and the climate of self-censorship in which independent media operates as a result of government actions in Ecuador. The Organic Law of Communications (LOC), enacted in June 2013, restricts the type of information that can be broadcast and published by the media. The enactment of the LOC—combined with the introduction of government institutions with the legal authority to monitor, intervene, control, and impose penalties on media—has led to more than 100 legal proceedings against journalists, the shutdown of the print edition of at least four newspapers, and a looming threat to other media outlets that they must follow the rules or close their doors.

“With the approval of the LOC, President Rafael Correa has intensified his campaign to put an end to independent journalism in Ecuador and eliminate any trace of critical public opinion that contradicts the government’s propaganda machine, composed of state-owned media outlets,” said Thor Halvorssen, president of HRF. “In addition to using all three powers of the state to persecute anyone who counters his government’s media hegemony, President Correa threatens and insults journalists—in Ecuador and abroad—through smear campaigns shown on mandatory national broadcasts and his weekly TV show,” added Halvorssen.

The LOC gives the government broad powers to regulate both the content (Article 60 et seq.) as well as the quality (Article 71) of what can or cannot be reported by the media. Specifically, the LOC prohibits “prior censorship”—but rather than define censorship as state action to censure the independent press, the law classifies it as the independent media’s ability to choose the subjects they cover (Article 18). For example, the law forces the press to “cover and disseminate events of public interest” and considers an act of preliminary censorship to be any “deliberate and recurrent omission of the dissemination of issues of public interest.”

In the application of these provisions, more than 100 administrative processes against various media outlets have been filed with the Information and Communication Superintendence (SUPERCOM), which began operations in October 2013. The newspaper El Universo is among the media outlets penalized by SUPERCOM under the new LOC; the paper was fined $90,000 earlier this year for publishing a satirical cartoon. The drawing depicted an arbitrary raid on the home of an Ecuadorean journalist who was sentenced to prison after filing a request for a criminal investigation against President Correa in connection with a 2010 police revolt. SUPERCOM ruled that the newspaper’s publication of the cartoon violated Article 25 of the LOC by “not refraining from taking an institutional stance on the innocence or culpability of a person who is involved in the investigation alluded to in the cartoon and its accompanying text.”

Other notable cases include complaints filed by President Correa’s supporters against newspapers El Universo, El Comercio, Hoy, and La Hora. The plaintiffs in these cases claim that the newspapers engaged in “prior censorship” by not covering President Correa’s official visit to Chile in May 2014, repeating accusations made by Correa himself during his mandatory television broadcast, “Enlace Ciudadano,” on May 17. During the show, Correa referred to these newspapers as “corrupt” and “mercantile” media, and complained that they reported “almost nothing” on the official visit, adding that La Hora chose not to mention that he had received an honorary doctorate degree while in Chile. In the same broadcast, Correa stated that his official visits were of “public interest” to the Ecuadorean people and, therefore, these media outlets had committed the offense of preliminary censorship. He called on Ecuadorean citizens to file complaints against all four newspapers before SUPERCOM.

“Journalists in Ecuador work in a climate of tension and self-censorship that extends to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television—especially those with a large reach. During an academic event held in Guayaquil last week, HRF confirmed that Ecuador is no longer a democracy in which journalists can question their government without fear of reprisal,” said Javier El-Hage, HRF’s general counsel. “The level of censorship in Ecuador today has not only crippled the media’s capacity to expose government abuse, but it has also led to the emergence of three different types of journalists in Ecuador: those who work for independent media and have stopped reporting on issues such as government corruption for fear of reprisal; the handful of journalists who also work for independent media and continue to put themselves at risk by criticizing those in power; and, finally, the large number of journalists working for the president’s propaganda machine, who seem to lack any ethical standards and instead focus on justifying abuses suffered by their colleagues,” El-Hage added.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies. We believe that all human beings are entitled to freedom of self-determination, freedom from tyranny, the rights to speak freely, to associate with those of like mind, and to leave and enter their countries. Individuals in a free society must be accorded equal treatment and due process under law, and must have the opportunity to participate in the governments of their countries; HRF’s ideals likewise find expression in the conviction that all human beings have the right to be free from arbitrary detainment or exile and from interference and coercion in matters of conscience. HRF does not support nor condone violence. HRF’s International Council includes human rights advocates George Ayittey, Vladimir Bukovsky, Palden Gyatso, Garry Kasparov, Mutabar Tadjibaeva, Elie Wiesel, and Harry Wu.
Contact: Jamie Hancock, (212) 246-8486,


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