Ecuador’s Media Still Under Attack

By Tara Schoenborn

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa continues to wage war on his nation’s media as he moves to shut down the nation’s only independent organization dedicated to freedom of the press, Fundamedios.

Although the 2008 Ecuadorian Constitution acknowledges freedom of speech and expression, Correa has consistently attacked journalists and news outlets since his election in 2007. His first success, as reported by the International Business Times, occurred in 2012 when he won a libel case that convicted the four owners of one of the most widely circulated newspapers, El Universal.

The most damaging of Correa’s actions against the media is the 2013 Communications Law, according to Freedom House, which gives the government the authority to regulate media content. Known as the “Gag Law,” it was supposed to redistribute television and radio licenses evenly to promote equitable representation in the media. However, Reporters Without Borders says that the Correa administration is using the law to “control information and to stifle critical opinion.” Freedom House says the law is the reason Ecuador’s press status switched from “partly free” to “not free.” In fact, according to a former Ecuadorian journalist in The New York Times, Correa is a “self-declared enemy” of the independent news media. He not only appears on television every weekend to attack the “corrupt news media,” he also uses airtime to put down journalists and physically rip up newspapers.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa

In his latest attempt to control the media, the International Business Times reports that Correa used the eruption of volcano Cotopaxi on Aug. 14 to declare a “state of emergency” that grants him the power of censorship for up to 60 days, including over social networks. According to an article in Mongabay, a nonprofit environmental news service, this serves the dual purpose of ensuring the safety of Ecuadorian citizens and quelling the many political protests against the Correa administration by various indigenous and social groups.

Under the declared “state of emergency,” the Correa administration’s National Secretariat of Communication (SECOM) sent a letter to Fundamedios, the country’s last-remaining media watchdog, to notify it of its dissolution. The Miami Herald reports that the administration claims that the U.S.-funded nongovernmental organization “has disseminated messages, alerts and essays with indisputable political overtones,” and has violated its own mission to only involve itself in “the areas of social communications and journalism.”

According to Telesur TV, there is evidence that Fundamedios has supported organizations opposed to Correa and issues unrelated to freedom of expression. However, the United Nations and international human rights organizations like the Human Rights Watch (HRW) are criticizing the Correa administration for what Daniel Wilkinson, HRW managing director for the Americas, says is “an egregious abuse of power and a clear example of this government’s authoritarian practices.” The U.S. Department of State has also expressed concern, as reported by the Associated Press, and has “called on Correa’s government to uphold its international commitments to respect free expression and association as fundamental democratic rights.”

Fundamedios has 10 days to defend itself against the Correa administration’s accusations, but according to the Latin Post, it is unlikely that it will be able to do so. The international news media are increasingly highlighting Correa’s violations against freedom of speech, so even if he succeeds in shutting down Fundamedios, the political and social implications for Ecuador may be vast when the 60-day “state of emergency” comes to an end.

Photograph by Luis Astudillo C. (Courtesy of Flickr: Agencia de Noticias ANDES)

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