Following the February 2013 electoral victory of the Country Alliance Movement, with which President Rafael Correa was re-elected and his party gained an absolute majority in the National Assembly in obtaining more than two thirds of the votes, a consolidation of the change of political model is foreseen.
This change includes, among its key aspects, a new focus on freedom of expression and the practice of journalism, basically on these central concepts:
New requirements and conditions for the work of journalists and news companies through the imminent Communication Law.
-Development of the idea that it is nonsensical that private companies guarantee the pubic right of expression and access to information. This concept is promoted by President Correa at international forums, from which he calls for adherents.
With this vision the government is promoting at an international level reforms to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). It basically is seeking budgetary changes that reduce the resources of the Office of Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression to the benefit of other areas of work, the use of precautionary measures, the origin of the funds with which it is financed, and the move of the headquarters from Washington to Panama due to the fact that the United Sates has not ratified the Pact of San José.
According to the government these changes strengthen the IACHR. In opposition, critical voices warn that such reforms weaken the system to the disadvantage of people and to the advantage of the governments.
The legal framework begins with the Constitution, which stipulates the existence of a communication law with a council to regulate the media that has the authority to define the prevalence of content, penalize discriminatory messages and order media to publish corrections, among other attributes.
The Executive Branch is the main promoter of the changes and in addition maintains an extremely hostile discourse against the media, journalists and those who are strong critics. There is constant use of public resources and radio and television networks to respond to politicians, journalists and activists in general.
In October President Correa warned he would dismiss public officials who provided information to legislators, as he feels that only the president of the National Assembly should meet such requirements. The courts threw out the appeal against the presidents decision that Fundamedios and the Catholic University had filed.
Government officials are reluctant to provide information that is requested by the public and journalists despite the fact that there exists the Law on Transparency and Access to Public Information.
Early in the year and in the electoral campaign President Correa announced an increase of around 70% in journalists salaries, while that of other activities was 9%. On the protest of the media, especially those inland, the government announced the study of a subsidy to finance those media and journalists affected.
The salary of a professional journalist rose to $817, which with other labor benefits amounts to more than $1,000. The action came after news media representatives failed to attend meetings to negotiate the annual increases. Diego Cornejo, the representative of the Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Publishers, says that he had not been summoned. Faced with the protest by the news media, especially the regional and smallest ones, the president asked the National Communication Department to look into the creation of a subsidy for those media and journalists.
The courts have issued unlawful rulings contrary to the Constitution and international treaties, with orders to the newspapers La Hora and El Universo to publish corrections.
In the case of La Hora, it had to publish a half-page government correction and a public apology on the front page for having shown data from the NGO Citizen Participation on the governments advertising expenses which according to the Communication Secretary are not true.
El Universo was required to publish a letter of support by an engineers guild for the then candidate and now vice president elect Jorge Glas, following allegations that he plagiarized his degree thesis. The newspaper at first denied to do so, due to the fact that, according to its interpretation, that would require the authorization of the National Electoral Council, as it was during the days of the campaign.
In dozens of cases judges are asking media for the names of journalists that write the news, unedited copy and even unpublished items.
The courts also threw out two libel suits brought against journalists.
There have been several convictions on charges of libel and terrorism that the members of the opposition regard as political persecution and that social protest is being made a criminal offense.
Former opposition member of Congress Fernando Balda was sentenced to two years in prison on a charge of libel in a trial brought by Oscar Herrera, an Executive Branch official. He was also sentenced to one year in prison for putting state security at risk in a trial requested by the Executive Branch.
The 10 persons implicated in the Luluncoto case were sentenced to one year in prison on a charge of sabotage and terrorism. The case began in December 2011 when pamphlet-hurling explosive devices exploded in Quito and Cuenca with messages against the visit of the Colombian President to Ecuador.
There are several convictions for the offenses of defamation and terrorism that members of the opposition say are political persecution and that public protest is being criminalized.
Given the lack of a law regulating the matter the Office for the Control of Business Organizations issues resolutions and rules to regulate the constitutional stipulation that emphasizes corporate limitations so that shareholders owning more than 6% of the shares in a news company of a national character, its executives and family members and direct relatives do not have an additional financial activity than that of the media. Through a resolution issued in October it ruled that companies with media outlets whose distribution in the provinces that have more than 30% of the countrys population are regarded as of national character.
The electoral office is in charge of carrying out the electoral processes on the basis of the Democracy Code, which threatens freedoms. According to this law the National Electoral Council (NEC) is the only one that can place electoral advertising in the media. For this, it carries out a prior process of grading the news companies and their rates. The money to place the advertisements comes from the government and serves do so in those media according to the candidates instructions.
The NEC must authorize all advertising placed in Ecuador that can give votes to or take from candidates during the electoral process. This includes messages from public institutions, private companies and foundations and any citizen or group.
During the electoral process in January and February the NEC vetoed several ads, considering them to be offensive to other candidates. It prohibited ads by the governing Country Alliance for using images of the government. It fined a candidate for giving as presents such things as mattresses, refrigerators and fans to voters. It started legal proceedings against a candidate for making anti-gay comments. It warned of fining between $50,000 and $100,00 media that do not give equal treatment in the publication of information on the candidates and on the campaign closing.
Despite being in effect the article in the Democracy Code that prohibits the media from publishing news that could give a positive or negative slant to the candidates during the campaign to date there have been no reports of official censorship, but yes a self control or self censorship on the part of journalists.
In these past six months there have been several developments on the Internet. Among these: The newspaper La Hora suspended comments by its readers. The Twitter account of the organization Fundamedios was suspended for a week without explanation. Several Web sites, whose editors have not been fully identified, with information critical of the government were blocked.
The YouTube channel of Emilio Palacio, former op-ed editor of the newspaper El Universo, was temporarily suspended when he posted a documentary titled Portrait of a Father of the Country. The suspension came after the Spanish legal firm Ares Rights called for it due to the unrequested use of images of the state-owned television Ecuador TV.
One of the opposition leaders, Salvador Quishpe, filed a lawsuit against the state-owned newspaper El Telégrafo for alleged spiritual harm and called for damages of five million dollars.
Journalists are carrying out their work in the face of numerous small and medium aggressions that range from insults and bans on coverage to even the suspension of programs, as in the case of reporter Andrés Carrión, who was told by the radio station he worked for that he was being suspended, without explanation, four days after interviewing the author of a controversial documentary.
Television channel Ecuavisa was prevented from broadcasting live the murder trial of legislator Galo Lara, in which he was acquitted.
The Red Televisión Sucúa TV station was physically attacked, parts of its plant being destroyed.
There continues, and it is being extended at a local government level, the practice of using advertising and access to public information to reward or punish.
A television spot of the Rival company was withdrawn from the air on the orders of the National Telecommunications Council on being considered to be sexist and discriminatory towards women. This action is envisioned under the law.
Chronology of the most important developments:
On October 15, the newspaper La Hora suspended comments by its readers on its Web site, in order to prevent it from being used to insult the authorities. It is the second media outlet to take this step. In early October the newspaper El Comercio did so on a complaint from the government.
On October 15, the newscasts of seven Quito radio stations were interrupted by a network set up by the government to attack the non-governmental organization Fundamedios, which has filed a formal complaint concerning the order made by Ecuadors President that his ministers not grant interviews to several privately-owned news media.
On October 17, made public was a lawsuit filed by María Helena Villareal, former governor of Carchi province, against Yaco Martínez, executive editor of the newspaper La Nación for alleged serious defamation. She asked for a three to six months prison sentence for contempt. The trial has been suspended several times.
On October 23, journalist Nataly Toledo, with the television channel Teleamazonas, wrote on her Twitter account that she had received a death threat in anonymous phone calls after airing a report on weapons in the possession of gangs in the city of Guayaquil. She filed a denunciation with the Attorney Generals Office.
On October 24, the government ordered television station Ecuavisa to broadcast two national hookups to deny a report that it had aired on the poor condition of houses provided by the government.
On October 25, news coverage was banned of a session planned to reassess the merits of the aspirants for joining the new Constitutional Court of Ecuador. The committee assigned to select the judges decided that reporters would not be allowed to enter, despite the fact that rules require the sessions to be open.
On October 27, President Correa blasted reporter Gonzalo Rosero of the Quito radio station Democracia for having spoken of the governments obligation to be answerable. The president used words such as sick and semi-ignorant. He made these comments during a Saturday hookup of radio and television stations throughout the country.
On October 29 the National Assemblys Supervision and Political Control Committee approved a report regarding the publication of news about a loan granted by the Cofiec bank, managed by the government, to Argentine citizen Gastón Duzac. He has been linked in news reports to Pedro Delgado, president of the Central Bank and a cousin of President Correa. The committees document accuses the media and recommends that they be investigated.
On October 31, the Second Criminal Court of Guayas rejected an appeal filed by employees of Guayaquil radio station Morena FM against a decision not to renew its broadcast license. The station is owned by the family of opposition member of Congress Luis Almeida, who announced that he will lodge an extraordinary appeal for protection with the Constitutional Court.
Two new nationwide hookups ordered by the National Communication Department interrupted new programs of the countrys leading radio stations and television channel Ecuavisa on November 6 in order to discredit a judge and a member of the federal Congress who voiced unfavorable opinions of the government regarding the funding of a human development bond with money from the private banking sector.
On November 8, the 21st judge of the Pichincha Civil Court, Marco Albán, admitted a protection recourse that the government sought and ordered the newspaper La Hora to publish a half-page correction and apologize to its readers for having published information from the NGO Citizen Participation about expenditure on official advertising. In his sentence the judge said that the federal government saw as harmed its constitutional rights to truthful information and the right to correction, established in Articles 18, paragraph 1 and 66, paragraph 7 of the Constitution, respectively, as a consequence of what La Hora published.
On November 14, La Hora published the correction on the terms that the judge ordered. It decided to file two criminal lawsuits against Judge Albán, one for false ideology and the other for breach of duty. An appeal against the action the judge had taken was overthrown by the courts on January 15, 2013. The newspaper announced that it would take the issue to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
On November 8, the Office for the Control of Business Organizations decided that a news media outlet is of a national character when it operates in provinces that have 30% of the national population, whether directly or through the uniting of various editions or related anonymous companies. This complements the constitutional ruling which establishes that anyone who has more than a 6% shareholding in a national communication company, is an executive of it or his or family members are, is prohibited from engaging in other financial activities.
On November 9, the National Communication Department ordered a national radio hookup to respond to international analyst Álvaro Vargas Llosa, who in an interview on the radio station Democracia said that Ecuador is one of the countries in the region that has grown least economically.
On November 12, provisional Criminal Court judge in Sucumbíos province Juan Ronquillo asked the media outlets Mundo Visión, Lago Sistema, Emisora Local Ecuador and Mega Ecuador to turn over recordings and unedited material for legal proceedings initiated by a judge concerning interviews and news items disseminated by those media.
On November 24, during his weekly broadcast to the nation from Quito, President Correa for the fourth time tore up a copy of the newspaper El Universo after speaking about an alleged media lynching of his cousin Pedro Delgado, then president of the Central Bank, regarding a denunciation by a member of Congress who accused him of not having professional qualification. On December 20, Delgado admitted that he had falsified the title of economist and he traveled to Miami, where he now lives.
On November 26, journalist Santiago Villa, editor of the documentary Rafael Correa: Picture of a Father of the Country, said that the government of Ecuador had intervened to ban the publication of the material which contained allegations of government links to the FARC guerrilla movement. Villa said that the Miami-based television channel América TeVe cancelled broadcast of the material, as did RCN Televisión of Colombia under pressure from officials of the Ecuadorean government. Some days later, the NGO Fundamedios complained that the documentary had twice been withdrawn from networks such as YouTube and Vimeo.
On November 28, Juan Alcívar, correspondent of the newspaper La Hora in La Concordia, Santo Domingo province, and a reporter for radio station El Nuevo Sol, was physically and verbally attacked by the municipal commissioner and other officials of that body, he reported. In 2010, Alcívar was investigated after being accused of having thrown a teargas bomb at a building where President Correa was. He had complained of being persecuted by the mayor of La Concordia.
On November 28, journalist Manuel José Valero, with television channel 8 TvAgro in the town of Babahoyo, Los Ríos province, filed a formal complaint with the Attorney Generals Office that he was receiving frequent telephone calls containing death threats and was verbally attacked. He said he had received around 40 calls in eight days, all from one number.
On November 29, Communication Department Secretary General Fernando Alvarado called Santiago Villa a hitman of the truth and warned that the tape could wind up in legal action against the author.
On November 30, citizen Paúl Moreno was arrested in the town of Riobamba, Chimborazo province, after revealing in his personal blog that he had access to personal information about President Correa in the official Public Data registry. He did so to prove that the registry was vulnerable. He was released on December 3 on a public request by the president, who also recommended that he release the information he had about him.
On December 9, Ángel Arregui, a journalist with television station Sacha TV in La Joya de los Sachas, Orellana province, said that he had been kidnapped by unidentified assailants as he was arriving at his home and taken to a place where they beat him, setting him free after telling him that it was punishment for meddling with the boss and not letting him work. Arregui was unable to work for 21 days.
A nationwide hookup, ordered on December 17 by the Communication Secretary, interrupted the newscast of Ecuavisa television channel for four minutes to air a criticism by President Correa of the newspaper El Universo for not having covered a festival that the now president organized in 1986, when he was a student leader. The matter had been mentioned by Correa during presentation of the Rodolfo Walsh awards.
On December 17, two correspondents of the newspaper El Comercio in the town of Abato, Tungurahua province, were attacked and injured during coverage of a clash between police and members of the public who wanted indigenous justice to be handed down to alleged criminals.
On December 18, for eight minutes a hookup ordered by the National Communication Department interrupted the newscasts being broadcast by national television channels to deny claims by the defense of 10 young people who were arrested on charges of terrorism made by the government and for criticizing the work of the news media in making victims of those involved.
On December 28, a security guard threatened to hurl teargas at Santiago Fernández, a news photographer with the newspaper La Hora, if he insisted on taking photographs at the Eugenio Espejo public hospital in Quito. What Fernández was covering was a worsening of the health of two women accused of terrorism by the government and who were on a hunger strike to seek their release.
On January 28, the Web site www.bananaleaks.com went off the air after publishing the results of an investigation which holds that President Correa has two bank accounts in Switzerland. This site used to publish cases of a political nature, especially denunciations concerning sectors close to the government.
During the electoral process under way in January and February the National Electoral Council took a number of actions that undermine the peoples freedom of expression. Its main argument was that no advertising should offend any person or group of people. Among them:
It withdrew from the television channels a spot by candidate Alberto Acosta that recounted, with cartoons, the history of a country with a little king.
It withdrew from two television channels a TV spot, of a parody kind, that was deemed offensive to candidate Guillermo Lasso.
It withdrew a spot by candidate Mauricio Rodas, considering it to detract from the image of the NEC.
It suspended two advertisements of the Presidential Office for the slogan Avanzamos Patria (We Move the Fatherland Forward), which according to it could be taken as a campaign in favor of Correa.
It fined candidate Álvaro Noboa about $5,000 for having given such goods as stoves, mattresses, blenders and fans, among other gifts, to his followers.
It filed suit against presidential candidate Gustavo Zavala over comments that the NEC regards as anti-gay.
On February 14 it warned it would impose fines ranging from $50,000 to $100,000 on media that publish photos and information about the closing of the campaign that could help or damage candidates. Given this warning, the great majority of newspapers opted for not publishing information on the closing and for recording their disagreement with the development.
On January 16, the courts agreed to the opening of a criminal trial for libel that public defender Geovanny Salazar Guerrero has brought against Alexandra Heredia, legal counsel of television station Sacha Tv. Salazar feels offended because the channel aired a note on people detained for traffic offenses, in which it is mentioned that he was jailed and the audio says presumably for having liquor on his breath. The channel based its news on information provided by the police. In addition to criminal justice Salazar is asking for $500,000 in damages.
On January 24, President Correa, a candidate for re-election, ordered the National Intelligence Department (SENAIN) to investigate three Twitter users. The user @Felix_macay, allegedly insulted Correa, in addition to publishing infographics on the re-election campaign advertising costs. SENAIN, please investigate this badly behaved person who insults the President with license, said Correa. That afternoon the account was shut down.
On the evening of January 25, reporters and technicians with the television channel Teleamazonas were prevented from broadcasting a soccer game between the teams Liga de Loja and Deportivo Quito, amid a controversy over the assignment of broadcasting rights. Teleamazonas and other channels had purchased the rights that should have been in effect this year, but the Ecuadorean Soccer Federation gave them to publicly-owned channel Ecuador TV and to Gamavisión and TC Televisión, taken over by the state. A report about this was supported by Claudio Rosas, technical control manager of the Telecommunications Superintendents Office.
On January 31, the Labor Judge in El Oro province denied an appeal for legal protection that had been requested by two lawyers from the publication of photographs of dead or wounded persons on the police report pages of the newspapers El Correo, La Opinión and El Nacional in the town of Machala.
On February 15, reporters with media in Manabí, Esmeraldas and Cotopaxi provinces were prevented from covering the parole of prison inmates.
On February 21, the organization Fundamedios announced that its Twitter account had been suspended, without further explanation. Five days later the account was restored. The foundation asked Twitter to explain what had happened.
On February 25, some 500 copies of El Diario (which represents approximately 2% of its daily circulation) in Portoviejo were seized and later paid for by unidentified persons in Pedernales, Manabí province. That day two news items had been published about that place, one concerning students who had won scholarships and the other about a police operation against drug trafficking gangs.
On March 1, the National Telecommunications Council ordered the withdrawal of a television spot titled Una historia con tubos Rival (A Story With Rival Tubes) on the grounds that it was regarded as being sexist and discriminatory towards women. In the ad several workers made flirtatious remarks to two women who were walking past a building site.