On June 14, 2013, Ecuador’s national legislature adopted the Organic Law on Communications with the following provisions that threaten freedom of the press:
- Prohibition of “media lynching,” which is defined as “a concerted effort, coordinated by several media or carried out by just one, to destroy a person’s honor or prestige.”
- Establishment of “everyone’s right that information of public interest received through the media should be verified, balanced, contextualized and opportune” without defining those terms.
- Establishment of media’s responsibility to accept and promote obedience to the Constitution, the laws and the legitimate decisions of public authorities.
- Creation of the office of Superintendent of Information and Communication with the power to regulate the news media, investigate possible violations and impose potentially large fines.
- Creation of the Council for Media Regulation and Development headed by a representative of the President with the power to exact a public apology (and impose fines for repeat offenses) when media fail to accord someone the right to a correction or the right of reply.
- Retention of the system of “cadenas,” or official messages which all over-the-air TV and radio stations have to broadcast that the President and the National Assembly speaker may use whenever they think it necessary and that other public office holders may use for five minutes per week.
Another provision on the surface may appear to be non-controversial: a requirement for allocation of broadcast frequencies (state, 34%; private, 33%; and community, 33%). Currently an estimated 60% are privately owned. Therefore, this requirement is seen as a means of the government’s closing privately owned media, presumably those critical of the government.
Other provisions of the new law are more benign. It prohibits any form of censorship by government officials or civil servants, guarantees the right of journalists to protect their sources and to maintain professional confidentiality.
This new law was strenuously challenged by the Ecuadorian legislators opposing the law, who said it will allow the government to control media through loosely defined regulations. (To the right is a photo of the objecting legislators with signs and masks over their mouths.)
Over 50 Colombian newspapers published a joint editorial condemning the law. Some Ecuadorian newspapers (Hoy and El Commercio) had similar criticisms. Human Rights Watch said the law “is yet another effort by President Correa to go after the independent media. The provisions for censorship and criminal prosecutions of journalists are clear attempts to silence criticism.” The law also was criticized by the Inter-American Press Association, Reporters Without Borders and the Committee To Protect Journalists.
The law was defended by its author who is a member of President Correa’s political party and who said it will “protect freedom of speech with a focus on everybody’s rights, not just for a group of privileged.” Another member of that party who is the president of the legislature predicted that the law would promote more balanced news coverage.
In his TV and radio speech to the country on June 15th President Correa said that law was a precedent that other Latin American countries would follow. Critics of the law, he said, were members of the “gallada” or club that opposes any regulation of the media.
This is not the first effort by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa to restrict the media. Such prior attempts have been protested by the previously mentioned NGO’s, the U.S. Department of State in its annual human rights reports and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
 This summary of the new law is based upon articles in an Ecuadorian newspaper (Hoy), the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and a commentary by Reporters Without Borders. As always, I invite others to provide comments to correct any errors of mine and to express other opinions about the new law.