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President Rafael Correa proposed a new communication law in 2009 with the aim of ensuring a fairer distribution of broadcast frequencies among community media, state-owned media and privately-owned media, with each getting a third. Although submitted to the National Assembly three years ago and debated several times since then, it has yet to be adopted. Some sections of the bill, such as those regulating content and the status of journalists, continue to be controversial. The provisions for assigning frequencies and overseeing their use also need to be completely overhauled to ensure acceptable implementation.
The government has invested a great deal in media, especially TV, amid considerable tension with the privately-owned media, which enjoyed a near-monopoly before Correa became president. A national TV station, Ecuador TV, has been created and Radio Nacional has been revived. The news agency Andes and two online newspapers, El Ciudadano and El Telégrafo, have been added to the ranks of the state media, while a dozen privately-owned media, including Gama TV and TC Televisión, have been turned into pro-government media after going bankrupt and being seized by the state.
"Cadenas" (government announcements that must be carried by all the broadcast media) and "enlaces" (presidential addresses that that broadcast media are strongly advised to carry on Saturdays, even if this is not obligatory) provide Correa with a tool for directly confronting privately-owned media that criticize his government. He attacked Gustavo Cortez, the editor of the daily El Universo, in four "enlaces" in July 2012. César Ricaurte, the head of the free speech NGO Fundamedios, was the target of the president’s verbal onslaughts the previous month.
The tension is unfortunately not limited to verbal exchanges. At the president’s request, legal proceedings were brought in 2011 against two journalists who wrote a book called "Big Brother" about his elder brother, Fabricio Correa, and against three of El Universo’s directors over an insulting editorial. El Universo’s directors received a presidential pardon in February 2012 but defamation and insult continue to be punishable by imprisonment.
The president’s personal attacks on opposition figures have begun to be accompanied by retaliatory measures against media critical of the government such as Radio Morena and the magazine Vanguardia. More than a dozen have been closed so far in 2012 without being able to exercise all their possibilities of appeal.
Two journalists have been killed since the start of 2012 but in neither case has a link with the victim’s work so far been established. The evidence that one of the victims, Byron Baldeón, had provided about a theft led to the arrest of three police officers.
Updated in September 2012
Ecuador - 22 August 2012
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