Ecuadorean media minister Fernando Alvarado published an open letter to Reporters Without Borders on 9 September in response to the one that its secretary-general, Jean-François Julliard, addressed to President Rafael Correa three days before. Reporters Without Borders is posting the minister’s reply on its website. It includes an invitation to international media freedom organizations to take part in a debate.
“We thank the minister and, through him, President Correa, for taking the trouble to respond to our questions and recommendations,” Julliard said. “We will agree to any dialogue initiative by the Ecuadorean government. We would just like to point out that Reporters Without Borders went to Ecuador in May 2010, during the first parliamentary debate on the communication bill. The report that followed this visit quoted representatives of all kinds from the world of the media and communication, regardless of their status and political views.”
Letter to Reporters Without Borders
9 September 2011
Regarding the Open Letter to President Rafael Correa, I would like to make the following observations in order to respond to your concerns:
1. You say in your letter that the criminal libel suit against the daily El Universo’s management has created tension between the government and privately-owned media. The tension you refer to comes from a few media companies which, motivated by mutual solidarity, have used their media as platforms to try to delegitimize a court decision.
2. The sentence against El Universo managed to reaffirm the principle that the rule of law prevails in Ecuador, not the rule of opinion. The goal is a country in which the honour of all of its citizens is respected, as stated in the Political Constitution of the State.
3. Like you, dozens of local and national journalists in Ecuador have criticized the excesses of certain media, including Emilio Palacio’s excesses. Millions of citizens did the same during the elections on 7 May and by approving the Constitution in 2008. They all support the rule of law, quality journalism and regulation of content. It cannot be possible, according to your analysis, that the immense majority of a country would want to control freedom of expression.
4. The president brought a criminal libel action against El Universo, Carlos Pérez Barriga, César Pérez Barriga, Nicolás Pérez Lapentti and Emilio Palacio because of an opinion piece published on 6 February entitled “No to lies.” It said, without offering any evidence: “The Dictator should finally remember, and this is very important, that as a result of this pardon, a future president, perhaps an enemy of his, could take him before a criminal court for ordering troops to fire at will and without prior warning against a hospital full of civilians and innocent people.” This is not an opinion, this is a statement with the deliberate intention of offending and besmirching the good name and honour of the Citizen President Rafael Correa Delgado. It also aimed to leave the door open for a genocide trial, and was used by an opposition parliamentarian to present a complaint before the International Criminal Court.
5. I welcome your interest, as an international organization, in freedom of expression in the world but I urge you to also advocate responsible and balanced journalism in this region.
6. I am surprised that you try to link the attempted coup d’état of 30 September with freedom of expression in Ecuador. The Ecuadorean government has never tried to justify any action on the grounds of events so painful for our country as those that took place on 30 September. The discourse from Ecuador’s privately-owned press and pseudo-opinion leaders has been one of systematic hostility towards the truth. We, on the other hand, as a national government, seek the democratization of information, that is to say, to provide citizens with quality information.
7. What are Reporters Without Borders’ grounds for saying that President Rafael Correa’s government is waging a media war? All that can be said is that there is an offensive against the government by four families that own leading news media and by various hangers-on. You just have to look at the daily headlines and editorials in these media. The offensive is obvious. This was already reported two years ago to the Inter-American Press Association but they took no action. We realized that this is a court that is biased in favour of one party.
8. As regards your concern about the independence of the public media, it must be pointed out that they are impounded media held by the AGD-CFN “No More Impunity” Trust. It is the Trust’s technical secretariat that plans, coordinates, controls and evaluates the commercial, technical, legal and financial activities of all these properties, which were impounded as a result of the financial debacle our country suffered under previous governments. This crisis was caused by corrupt bankers who also owned news media. This government promoted the acquisition of the media by their workers and it is clear that its goals do not include controlling the content of the media administered by the state, as you suggest. These media have been empowered by citizens who were always sidelined by the mainstream media. This is an achievement by a true democracy.
9. The Ecuadorean government does not silence or avoid criticism that is respectful and it promotes a legitimate debate of ideas. Its communication policy promotes inclusion, democratization and a free access to information. A poorly informed society is the worst of all evils. We therefore have a duty to provide Ecuadoreans with what they need to establish forums for the expression of well-grounded public opinion with the aim of creating citizens who play an active role in the country’s political life.
10. We regret that you have not taken the trouble to come to Ecuador to verify for yourselves the truth of the facts before offering the comments and recommendations expressed in your letter to President Correa. I therefore invite you and other international organizations that defend freedom of expression to a forum with many journalists, media unions, media students, student collectives and many media owners. In this way, you will be able to have a broader vision of this country’s reality, one that is not limited to the vision of four media-owning families.
With best wishes,
Fernando Alvarado Espinel
National Secretary for Communication