A communications law, promoted by President Rafael Correa, should begin its final reading on 18 June, after seven months of controversy within the national assembly and within the media profession.
It was against this background that Reporters Without Borders took part in the forum, “Journalism Under Debate” at the San Francisco de Quito University on 7-8 May, organised by journalist and teacher Éric Samson, who is also our organisation’s correspondent in Ecuador. Interviews conducted here and on the sidelines of these two days of discussion provide the basis of the report we are releasing today.
The press freedom landscape in Ecuador, in the light of the new law, is seen by many as characteristic of the Latin-American regional context involving sharp polarisation between a fledgling public press, seen as close to government and a privately owned media that is tendentious if not actually oppositional; volatile relations between these traditionally dominant private media and a progressive new government; a climate of unremitting “media war” with neither side ready for a truce. While this context does not a priori favour a consensus on the new law, it could at the same time present an opportunity to go beyond it.
We accept that in principle the proposed Ecuadoran law genuinely aims to democratise the media scene. Most of those who contributed to this report, regardless of their political position, conceded the need for new and appropriate regulation. However, this report also reveals criticisms from both sides – and sometimes for the same reasons - about its practical application (types of sanctions, the composition of the planned Communication and Information Council, and the educational qualifications required to practise journalism).
These criticisms sometimes overlap with our own. The law would be better if it deleted reference to “news likely to provoke social upheaval and disorder” among the very small amount of content it would seek to ban. These ideas are vague and would produce self-censorship. But above all our concerns rest less on the content of the law than on essential compensations without which its application could be compromised.
Three of these seem to us essential:
- The decriminalisation of the offences of “defamation and insult””
- A fair share of the benefit of official advertising concomitant with that of frequencies
- Regulation of official announcements or messages, called “cadenas”, limiting their number and putting strict conditions on their compulsory broadcast on all channels as currently during the week. Instead of explaining policy, these “cadenas” have become through their form and their frequency instruments of aggressive propaganda – sometimes targeting the media or journalists - that reinforces polarisation. Here is one such, broadcast during our visit, on 7 May 2010, the background to which is explained in the report (subtitled in english) :