August 18, 2015 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Why is Ecuador censoring coverage of volcano’s activity?

The Ecuadorean authorities have imposed “preventive censorship” on all media coverage of Cotopaxi, a volcano 50 km south of the capital that became active again on 14 August after 73 years of inactivity. The government’s communiqués are now the only permitted source of information on the subject. Under the nationwide state of emergency, Decree 755, that President Rafael Correa signed on 15 August, the Ecuadorean media and, in particular, social network users may only discuss the volcano’s activity on the basis of the information provided by the security ministry in its official bulletins. The declared aim is to “avoid rumours and disinformation.” Communication minister Fernando Alvarado said this does not mean that journalists cannot go “a bit beyond” the government-provided information. In other words, they are allowed to do reports with colour charts and photos as long as they are based on the bulletins. “The most important thing is not to create unnecessary panic in the population, and not to create excessive tranquility either,” Alvarado said. “On the grounds of avoiding widespread panic, the Ecuadorean authorities are treating journalists as people who do nothing more than relay government communiqués,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Latin America desk. “The danger posed by Cotopaxi’s activity deserves to be treated with care. However, there is no justification for forcing reporters to only use information from official scientific sources and to ignore all other sources.” Media freedom is already very restricted in Ecuador. Last week around 20 demonstrators were arrested and roughed up during protests against President Correa’s policies. They included a photographer working for the daily El Comercio and Manuela Picq, a journalist wih French and Brazilian dual citizenship. They have since been released. Ecuador is ranked 108th out of 180 countries in the press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders published in February.