The government of President Rafael Correa Delgado has redoubled its aggressive attitude toward the press. The government continued its strategy of making the media its main “opponent,” apparently as part of its campaign to divide and polarize citizens and thus win the September 28 referendum in which citizens approved a new constitution.
This included a very expensive advertising campaign on television channels, most of which belong to the state since they were confiscated because of their owners´ connections to the past bank crisis. Only two national TV chains remain in private hands.
It is also worth mentioning official television broadcasts to “refute” news that the government does not like. These broadcasts often interrupt morning news shows that criticize the government, thus taking over the channels´ audiences. And there is no lack of the usual insults against the media and journalists, calling them “dwarfs,” “bums,” “corrupt,” etc.
In any case, the future of press freedom depends at this point in how the new Constitution will be applied. Among other provisions, it establishes the right to “receive, exchange, produce and disseminate true, verified, timely, contextual, plural information, without prior restraint, about facts, events and processes of general interest and with subsequent responsibility” (Article 28). It also states that the law “shall regulate the importance of content with informational, educational and cultural objectives in the media’s programming” (Article 19). And, it says in Article 384, “the state shall formulate communication policy,” and, in Article 408, that the radio spectrum is a non-renewable natural resource and therefore, the state “shall participate in the benefits” of its use “in an amount that shall not be inferior to that of the company that exploits it.”
On June 23, César Raúl Rodríguez Coronel, assistant news director of the radio station Sucre of Guayaquil, was shot three times and killed. A few days later the police announced the arrest of the alleged killers and theorized that it was a crime of passion. Prosecutor Franklin Muzzio said, on the other hand, that the motive would not be known until he presented his report, which he has not done yet.
After a criminal judge in Pichincha had set aside the criminal trial of the editor of the daily La Hora, President Correa requested on June 25 that it be reopened and that the editor, who was tried a year and a half ago, be detained preventively. Judge Vicente Altamirano had closed the case definitively at the request of the prosecutor.
On July 7, the National Police detained two of the hit men who killed Carlos Navarrete, former editor of the daily El Telégrafo, a company that had become property of the state. Apparently both criminals were hired by a third person who fled the country. The exact motive is not yet known.
On July 7, the radio network Cadenar, whose principal station Sucre identified with the opposition, was closed in Guayaquil. The measure was taken by the telecommunications agency Suptel alleging that Sucre had not paid what it owed for the concession of its frequency.
On August 28, the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (Conartel) denied the appeal by radio stations Sucre and Cupido FM. The radio stations´ representatives presented in their defense reports by Suptel indicating that both stations had been operating legally before they were closed. On September 11, Judge Carlos Salmon of the civil court in Guayas denied an appeal on constitutional grounds by Sucre.
On July 7 the Deposit Guarantee Agency (AGD) ordered the seizure of 195 companies linked to the Isaías brothers, former owners of Banco Filanbanco, which began reorganization in 1998. Among the properties seized were two broadcast television channels (TC Televisión and Gamavisión), three cable channels (Cablevisión, Cable Deportes and Americavisión) and the cable system TV Cable. TV Cable was ordered to revise its channel lineup and move the government channel from 75 to 11.
The directors of the news programs of TC Televisión, Gamavisión and Cablevisión were dismissed, and the AGD named journalist José Toledo to replace them.
The Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Publishers (Aide) said, “the national government has the moral and legal obligation to guarantee the validity of the rights to free expression and thought, which could be harmed if the news, analysis and opinion content in these media outlets are manipulated.”
Later the site YouTube had a video showing Enrique Arosemena, manager of the state media, in an internal meeting criticizing the host of a cooking show in TC Televisión for talking about the increase in food prices and the host of an economic program on CN3 for expressing an opinion about legal topics.
Since then, the channels that were confiscated have been gradually moving toward giving more time in their news shows to official sources, especially in the weeks before the September 28 referendum. This trend may intensify.
On August 17, Government Minister Fernando Bustamante, announced that from then on it would be prohibited to photograph violent scenes or pictures of injured people or dead bodies. The official later explained that the order was not directed at the media, but at the police to prevent them from taking this type of photographs. The official said the measure is intended to defend people’s right to privacy and dignity, even after they are dead. He admitted, however, that another goal was to decrease the feeling of fear caused by of the increase in crime. He said he believes this was caused mainly by exaggerations in the sensational press.
A few days later a journalist from Diario Súper was intimidated by six policemen who made him erase a picture he had taken at a place where a citizen had died. In Quito a policeman tried to prevent a photographer from the same company from taking a picture of the bus that had been involved in an accident in which a child had died.
On August 29, Abadalá “Dalo” Bucaram Pulley, the national leader of the Roldosista Ecuatoriano Party (PRE), announced that he would sue Emilio Palacio, columnist of El Universal at the Guayas prosecutor’s office for slanderous insults. Palacio had said on a television program that Bucaram´s brother Jacobo “earned a million dollars” with the help of his father, Abadalá Bucaram when he was president.
On September 20, Conartel ordered television channels not to run an advertisement in favor of a “no” vote in the referendum that said abortion might be legalized. Conartel warned that a channel that did not obey this order could be closed. That morning, President Correa described the sponsors of the ad, Ecuador Pragmático, as “the dregs of humanity.” Conartel agreed later to allow the ad to run, but not at times that children might be watching, known as the children’s protection time.