A free speech advocate fears that President Rafael Correa's sweeping new communications law, outlawing so-called "media lynching," in fact threatens to silence real journalism.
BUENOS AIRES — Ecuador recently passed a sweeping new communications law that imposes severe restrictions on all types of media, regardless of size or format. Naturally, its supporters — including President Rafael Correa, who has harbored a longstanding animus toward the media — characterize it as mechanism to promote balanced journalism, while critics called it a not-so-veiled form of censorship.
The law establishes the concept of media lynching, defining it as the publication of information about a person or institution by one or more media outlets, simultaneously or over a number of days, that damages a person or institution’s status and reputation. It includes a chapter on “ethical principles,” which the state developed itself. The law also creates the position of “defender of the audience,” a post held, in practice, by state-selected inspectors who monitor staffs at media outlets.
In recent years, media and communication law has become a priority for many Latin American countries. Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Bolivia and, most recently, Ecuador have all proposed reform legislation. Correa was re-elected for a second term in February, and he wasted no time in legislatively targeting the media, which he routinely accuses of being inaccurate and corrupt, highlighting the links between the owners of private media corporations and the banks that contributed to Ecuador's 1999 financial crisis.
What does this law mean for Ecuadorian journalism? Consider one example: On Tuesday July 23, a group of 30 people — tried, vilified and found guilty by President Rafael Correa’s administration and justice system — called a press conference in front of the Organization of American States building in Quito. Their purpose was to present a letter and manifesto denouncing human rights violations to the representative of the regional organization that promotes cooperation in the Americas.
The two most anti-government newspapers, La Hora and El Universo, covered the news piece. One described the event as follows: “Self-proclaimed persecuted politicians presented a letter denouncing the violation of human rights in this country to the Organization of the American States on Tuesday morning.” And the other version — or is it the same? “The self-proclaimed persecuted politicians delivered a letter saying they feel taken hostage and under attack by the government of President Rafael Correa.”
No other media outlet published so much as a line or photo about an act so strongly charged with symbolism.
It is clear that the Ecuadorian media has adopted the language of the ruling power. It no longer dares to joke, much less add a dose of irreverence or, even worse, side with the victims. The paranoia is likely to decrease over the next few days, but right now the media in Ecuador is running the risk of disappearing as a space for real journalism, even if it continues to survive as a business.
César Ricaurte is the director of Fundamedios, the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media.