Former El Universo columnist Emilio Palacio will fortunately no longer have to serve the three-year jail sentence which a court imposed on him on 26 March on a charge of criminally libelling National Finance Corporation chief Camilo Samán in an editorial.
Just as a court was about to rule on Palacio’s appeal against the jail term and an order requiring him to pay 10,000 dollars in legal costs, Samán announced on 4 June that he was withdrawing his complaint. This means the entire case has been dropped. Palacio’s strongly-worded was written in August 2009, as demonstrators were besieging the newspaper’s headquarters.
Reporters Without Borders hails Samán’s decision, which means Palacio is no longer facing the possibility of going to prison, and hopes that Ecuador will finally decriminalize press offences when parliament votes on a pending Communication Law.
The press freedom organisation will refer to this subject in a forthcoming report on the visit it made to Ecuador in early May.
30.03.10 - Controversial jail sentence amid tension between authorities and journalists
Reporters Without Borders condemns the three-year jail sentence that a court in Guayaquil imposed on Emilio Palacio, a columnist for the daily El Universo, on 26 March on a charge of libel. He was also ordered him to pay 10,000 dollars in court costs. Palacio is still free pending the outcome of an appeal.
The sentence is disproportionate, contrary to the western hemisphere tendency to decriminalize press offences, and inopportune because the Ecuadorean parliament is currently debating legislation on this issue.
An outspoken commentator and critic of President Rafael Correa, Palacio was sued by the chairman of the board of the National Finance Corporation, Camilo Samán, over a column criticising him that was posted on El Universo’s website in August 2009 (read the column in Spanish: http://www.eluniverso.com/2009/08/2...).
Samán’s lawsuit is understandable inasmuch as Palacio’s column was extremely aggressive but the sentence, although subject to appeal, has endorsed the principle of criminal penalties for press offences when an appropriate damages award would have sufficed.
A prison sentence for this kind of offence is contrary to Inter-American jurisprudence, which Ecuador is required to follow as a member of the Organisation of American States. Imprisonment for journalists is also inappropriate in a democracy as it has the effect of pressuring and intimidating the entire profession.
Reporters Without Borders hopes that the communication bill currently being debated by the national assembly will decriminalize press offences. The bill contains provisions, such as a framework for educational and community media, that undeniably advance the cause of media diversity.
By reinforcing the status of journalists, it responds to some of the demands of media professionals. And the various parties in the national assembly agreed last December that the future Communication Council would not have the power to close any news media.
What worries Reporters Without Borders about the bill are the penalties for press offences and the provision for preventive censorship of certain kinds of content. In return for this, there should at least be proper regulation of government messages and announcements, known as “cadenas.”
The often inappropriate and discriminatory nature of such messages was condemned by the head of the NGO Fundamedios, César Ricaurte, in a recent interview for Reporters Without Borders.
Watch the video:
Photo : El Comercio