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An Appeal To Loosen The Noose On Ecuadorian Media

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.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa facing journalists in 2012
Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa facing journalists in 2012
César Ricaurte

-OpEd-

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.

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Geopolitics

New Probe Finds Pro-Bolsonaro Fake News Dominated Social Media Through Campaign

Ahead of Brazil's national elections Sunday, the most interacted-with posts on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Telegram and WhatsApp contradict trustworthy information about the public’s voting intentions.

Jair Bolsonaro bogus claims perform well online

Cris Faga/ZUMA
Laura Scofield and Matheus Santino

SÂO PAULO — If you only got your news from social media, you might be mistaken for thinking that Jair Bolsonaro is leading the polls for Brazil’s upcoming presidential elections, which will take place this Sunday. Such a view flies in the face of what most of the polling institutes registered with the Superior Electoral Court indicate.

An exclusive investigation by the Brazilian investigative journalism agency Agência Pública has revealed how the most interacted-with and shared posts in Brazil on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Telegram and WhatsApp share data and polls that suggest victory is certain for the incumbent Bolsonaro, as well as propagating conspiracy theories based on false allegations that research institutes carrying out polling have been bribed by Bolsonaro’s main rival, former president Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, or by his party, the Workers’ Party.

Agência Pública’s reporters analyzed the most-shared posts containing the phrase “pesquisa eleitoral” [electoral polls] in the period between the official start of the campaigning period, on August 16, to September 6. The analysis revealed that the most interacted-with and shared posts on social media spread false information or predicted victory for Jair Bolsonaro.

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