Deterioration in freedom of expression has continued during the past six months due to the enactment of the Communication Law put into effect by Ecuador’s President, there having initiated operations the Superintendence of Information and Communication (Supercom) and the Council on Regulation and Control of Communication and Information (Cordicom) which have as their objective application of the law, which contains serious violations of press freedom.
During this period there continued to be constant attacks by the government on journalists, media, opposition politicians and some citizens that criticize it.
In addition, approval was given to the new Integral Penal Code which will enter into force in August 2014.
Supercom immediately took up some cases. In December it sent a written rebuke to the newspaper Extra and ordered it to rectify the headlines of two news items, considering them to have given morbid treatment of a traffic accident. The resolution called for rectification of the headlines “De la reunion a la tumba” (From The Meeting to the Grave) and “Se fue al cielo con título de licenciada” (She Went to Heaven With the Title of Graduate) “for not being coherent or consistent with the news content.” According to the Superintendent Extra contravened Article 3 of the Medical Ethics Code imposed under law which speaks of “avoiding morbid treatment” of information.
Extra refused to rectify because it had not lacked the truth and because the process is full of vices. The Superintendent sent the process to the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
On March 24 Supercom fined Extra 10% of its average monthly invoice of the past three months.
In January Supercom ordered cartoonist Bonil (Xavier Bonilla) to rectify a cartoon he published on December 28 and El Universo to pay a fine of 2% of its average monthly sales of the past three months.
Bonil was found guilty of lying because he included in his cartoon a phrase not in quotes implying that with this he was provoking “social unrest.”
The alleged El Universo offense was for “not abstaining from having an institutional position” concerning a case that was under prior investigation, convicting it for not having censored the cartoonist.
El Universo paid a fine of nearly $100,000 and appealed the sentence in the Litigious and Administrative Court. The Communication Law establishes that each new fine will be double the previous one. Therefore, a second fine would amount to some $200,000 and a third $400,000, and so on successively.
On January 8 Supercom fined the television channel RTS $60,000 for having assumed an “institutional position” in the case of an alleged violation under investigation in the Public Prosecutor’s Office. According to Supercom such a position was assumed through comments on the case made by host Hugo Gavilánez.
In a contrary sense there were also requests for rectification that Supercom rejected. Among these, that of former member of Congress Martha Roldós, who in February submitted a complaint against the government newspaper El Telégrafo, for the alleged offense of media lynching, as it has published on several subsequent days, and prominently, information that linked her with the putting into operation of a news agency which, according to the paper, receives money from abroad to destabilize the government.
In March Blasco Peñaherrera, representative of the survey company Market, presented a request for rectification to Supercom for President Rafael Correa having alluded in one of his Saturday addresses to the nation and then on the state television channel that broadcasts the program and the National Communication Ministry (Secom), in its role as producer, a body of the Executive Branch, to having denied the right of reply. Correa had called the pollster “chimba” (false) and “liar.”
In March the National Court of Justice upheld the conviction of members of Congress Cléver Jiménez, Fernando Villavicencio and Carlos Figueroa for the crime of defamation of the Ecuadorean President, Rafael Correa. The two first ones have to spend 18 months in prison and the third six months. In addition, they have to pay indemnity of $140,000 to the president. These proceedings began when those convicted filed suit against the head of state because, they said, he had ordered the September 30, 2010 armed incursion. The suit was thrown out.
On that date the National Police raided Villavicencio’s home and on a judge’s order seized electronic equipment and documents that were understood to contain leads that, according to the judge, would lead to a system of spying and hacking of social media and government officials’ accounts, including that of President Correa, and that at the same time, according to the owner of the material, is was a matter of investigations into government corruption. Villavicencio is adviser to member of Congress Cléver Jiménez and has published notes on the Plan V Web site concerning an alleged network of corruption in the sale of Ecuadorean petroleum.
On March 24 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued precautionary measures to prevent the imprisonment of those convicted. Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño considered the measures interference by the IACHR.
In November the Citizens Participation Council issued a resolution with which it laid down rules for the rendering of accounts which before the people should be done by persons, institutions or companies that receive money from the state or that provide a public service, among them according to the legal interpretation privately-owned news media, for having been classified as providers of a public service and thus administratively controlled by the state.
The resolution establishes that media should provide, in the first 30 days of the year in a public place within its territory, a rendering of accounts that includes general data, annual balances, compliance with labor and tax requirements, compliance with objectives and other things that be of importance for collective interest.
In January the non-governmental organizations whose area of activity is in journalism and freedom of expression, such as Fundamedios, came to be controlled by the Secom, as stipulated in Executive Decree 16. Secom is in charge of carrying out informative campaigns to discredit privately-owned media and opposition members. According to César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, “the government has given its head to its main enemy.”
The new Penal Code contemplates various offenses, among them:
- Violation of intimacy, with a punishment of between one and three years of anyone disseminating information considered to be private or confidential.
- The dissemination of secrets of third parties brings with it punishment of between six and 12 months imprisonment. This article of the law is highly ambiguous and does not specify details.
- Financial panic, which is the dissemination of false information that affects the financial system, that brings about the massive withdrawal of deposits and similar effects, with punishment of five to seven years imprisonment.
- Offense against public faith, among which is the practice of a profession without qualification despite the law requiring it, as is the case of the requirement for the title of journalist for those that work in communication.
- Calumny, with a punishment of six months to two years.
- Political harassment, the person that harasses another and impedes his or her access to elections.
- Advocating criminal behavior, punishable by imprisonment of 15 to 30 days.
- It maintains the offense of contempt even though it eliminates the word “contempt.”
In February sectional elections were held within the legal framework of the Democracy Code, which establishes the following:
- It establishes that the only contractor of electoral advertising in the news media is the state.
- It prohibits media from publishing information that could give votes to or take votes from candidates. In practice it is a requirement impossible to comply with and one for which no one has been punished.
- It empowers authorities to suspend advertising which according to them goes against democracy or a clean electoral campaign. For example, Secom called on media not to disseminate a promotional video on Guayaquil during a campaign, it also took off the air another video in which the mayor was giving his version of the removal of land invaders, in which the government suppressed citizens.
Chronology of other important developments:
On October 28 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a hearing on freedom of expression in Ecuador at the request of labor unions and individuals. The government did not attend.
On November 4 the judiciary confirmed, at the second instance level, the extinguishment and archiving of the lawsuit that prosecutor Alexandra Bravo had, on a personal basis, brought against five members of El Diario of Portoviejo, for alleged libel.
On November 5 the National Union of Journalists announced that for reasons of safety it had taken its Web site off the air after suffering an electronic attack by unknown persons.
On November 6 the government ordered a chain of radio stations to disqualify journalist Gonzalo Rosero of the Exa-Democracia chain for making comments about the delegation that had accompanied President Rafael Correa on an official visit to Russia.
On November 18 historian Francisco Núñez del Arco reported on his blog that he was the victim of prior censorship and intimidation following calls from the Culture Ministry as a consequence of which he suspended the presentation of his book “El Ecuador y Alemania nazi – los secretos de una relación ocultada” (Ecuador and Nazi Germany – The Secrets of a Hidden Relationship). The book had been due to be launched at the International Book Fair in Quito.
On November 21 National Communication Secretary Fernando Alvarado asked Supercom to take “the relevant measures” against the newspaper La Hora for having ignored a request for rectification over the headline of a news item which in its view “distorts the sense of the events and attributes a direct responsibility to the government.” La Hora published the response and the case was archived.
On December 5, through a police operation, Supercom raided the installations of the television station EcotelTV in Loja, with the aim of seizing some equipment of a radio station that had operated there until August. In another operation its equipment was taken and it went on to broadcast over the Internet.
On December 5 the courts sentenced to four years in prison seven of the 13 people implicated in “sabotage” of the television station Ecuador TV on September 30, 2010 when a police revolt took place. Another six defendants were not sentenced because they were out of the country, two of them in political exile in the Czech Republic.
On December 6 Secom asked media not to publish a video produced by the Guayaquil Municipality in which members of the National Police are seen forcefully ejecting land invaders. According to Secom the video should not be aired “because it does not contain the truth.”
On December 14 President Rafael Correa asked Supercom to apply the Communication Law against the TV channel Ecuavisa for having aired an item about Guayaquil Metropolitan Police repression of a group opposing Mayor Jaime Nebot.
On December 17 the Ecuadorean Attorney General’s Office asked Supercom to ask, which it did on January 6, all media about the news concerning contamination the Chevron-Texaco company had brought about in the Amazonian region. The request did not specify either the days or the pages on which the news items appeared.
On December 17 unidentified persons attacked the offices of the production company Colectivo Lluvia Comunicación in Morona Santiago province in western Ecuador, and took away laptop computers and hard drives containing the audiovisual history of Ecuador’s Amazonian region, compiled over 10 years. One and a half months earlier they had issued a documentary disclosing alleged wrongdoing in the process prior to a consultation on the exploitation of petroleum in the Amazonian region.
On December 28 President Rafael Correa during his Saturday nationwide broadcast described as an “ink hitman” journalist Roberto Aguilar, contents editor of the newspaper Hoy, and showed his photograph following the publication of a news item on the Christmas Novena at Government Palace.
On January 7 the Ecuadorean Football Federation decided to punish footballers, technicians and managers who offend social networks.
On January 7 Fernando Villavicencio, a journalist and activist, verbally attacked Orlando Pérez, editor of the publicly-owned newspaper El Telégrafo, on being asked about some statements made by the Attorney General concerning his legal background.
On January 9 Cordicom issued a ruling for the creation of a media registry. Practically all the required data are public, as the media had to provide them previously to other government bodies. What is new is the provision of information concerning staff, as for example their ethnicity. The registry is not obligatory, but any media outlet that is not registered cannot have a contract with the government.
On January 9 the equipment of TV Agro Canal 28 in Babahoyo was seized by the police on the orders of the National Telecommunications Council (Conatel), on the argument that they were being operated illegally. León Mancheno, the channel’s owner, said that the operation had all the paperwork and was up-to-date in payments.
On January 13 opposition member of Congress Dalo Bucaram was sentenced to one month suspension without pay after the National Assembly’s Administration Committee found him guilty of having offended members of Congress of the governing party.
On January 20 journalist and Ecuavisa interviewer Alfredo Pinargote was accused by governing party Congress member Alexandra Ocles before Supercom of “having dared to denigrate, once again, the Afro-Ecuadorean people and those of diverse sexual orientation” in a comment made on January 7.
On January 20 President Correa issued the General Regulation of the Communication Law, in which it is established that news companies’ digital media will also be regulated, this despite the fact that the Communication Law excludes them.
In January government media began an informational campaign to demonstrate that the communication project called Tamia News sought to destabilize the government.
On January 17 in a radio interview Information Superintendent Carlos Ochoa said that his agency cannot take a radio or television program off the air but it can several times fine any media outlet that broadcasts the program if it breaks the law.
On January 20 Interior Minister José Serrano announced on his Twitter account that he will file a formal complaint against the newspaper La Hora for having published “incorrect information” about a fire at the Litoral Prison in Guayaquil, calling the media outlet “a privately-owned company with communication profit motives.”
On January 24 the National Electoral Council (CNE) suspended three advertising campaigns that the Guayaquil Municipality was staging, calling them an electoral type. Mayor Jaime Nebot criticized the decision because the agency is not autonomous and because it was not suspending the federal government’s campaigns.
On January 8 Supercom reprimanded the publicly-owned newspaper El Telégrafo for not making a response to the Pichincha Bank in the same space that it published the news.
On February 21 a report with the newspaper La Hora in Quito was thrown out by staff of a meeting in which there were government officials.
On March 6 President Correa announced in an interview that he would “be sparing” in the number of attacks on media and would allow some ministers to grant interviews to independent media.
On March 18 the Constitutional Court held a session to hear the basis of those requesting the declaration of unconstitutionality of several articles of the Communication Law. During the hearing the petitioners and defenders of the law spoke. Standing out were the remarks by Information and Communication Superintendant Carlos Ochoa, lasting nearly 10 minutes, in which he belittled the petitioners and independent media. His attitude brought several calls of attention by the judge chairing the session.