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Ecuador: Debates Over New Communication Law

Ecuador's new Constitution, which was passed by a national referendum in 2008, says in Article 16 that all people, individually or as a group, have the right to free, intercultural, inclusive, diverse, and participative communication [es]. However, the interpretation of this article in the form of laws has created some controversy. Many have started to debate about the contents the new Communication Law, which is the very first one of this kind in Ecuador. On one side, the government seeks to regulate the media, partly in response to the frequent clashes between journalists and the administration of President Rafael Correa, who has been critical of the role of the media during his first term as president. Correa has described journalists as “corrupt, mediocre, shameless.

Those who are opposed to the proposed law say that the government wants to silence critics and say that this is a danger to free speech. The draft bill of The Organic Law of Communication, Freedom of Expression and Access to Public Information [pdf] is a document of 38 pages and is being presented and analyzed by different groups in the country, including bloggers, but particularly the media.

The government released this video with examples to answer the question, “Why do citizens need a Law of Communication?”

Blogger Silvia of Lunas Azules [es] for example, agrees with the government and thinks that journalists do need controls. She reflects on the profession of journalist in the country:

En principio resulta hasta ameno constatar lo que muchas veces es ingenuidad de editores con poca preparación profesional y quizá ninguna experiencia en escribir textos, pero después termina siendo seriamente preocupante porque se comprende que nuestra prensa “profesional” no sólo es amateur, sino que muchas veces omite, agrega y selecciona intencionalmente, tendenciosamente, con designios que no son precisamente la entrega de información imparcial a los ciudadanos.

At the beginning, it ends up being entertaining to note what often is the naivety of editors who have little professional training and maybe no experience writing texts, but later it ends up being seriously worrisome because it is understood that our “professional” press is not only amateur, but often omits, adds, and selects intentionally, biased, with intentions that are not precisely to deliver information to citizens in an impartially manner.

One of the proposals in the law is that only those individuals who have earned journalism degrees would be able to practice the profession. Ricardo Tello of Periodismo por Dentro [es] has lived and verified what Lunas Azules has commented before. He calls on all journalists to remember that laws governing the media themselves, do not become obstacles for the independent exercise of this career. His opinions against practices of which he disapproves had earned the ‘enemy of journalism’ according to a radio announcer in Cuenca, an austral city in Ecuador. Tello responds to his detractor and why a journalist does not necessarily need to have a journalism degree:

A pesar de ser profesor universitario, no reivindico la colegiatura o la obligatoriedad del título de periodista; el título solo es el primer paso de una formación profunda y permanente.

Y si eso me vuelve un enemigo de la prensa, pues me declaro enemigo del periodismo mediocre.

Despite being a university professor, I make no claim of making a journalism degree mandatory, the degree is only the first step in a profound and ongoing training.

And if that makes me an enemy of the press, then I plead that I am an enemy of mediocre journalism.

In Ecuador, the media is considered the fourth power, after Presidency, Congress and the Supreme Court. However, President Correa says, “power needs to be regulated and controlled, we need a balance of power,” when he speaks about media and journalists in his country. His position has caused that many Latin American organizations including CIESPAL, that raises concerns about the draft of communications law. Groups in opposition to the approval of this law like to call it: Gag Law. In front of this, Galo Benítez of Migrante Latino [es] asks his readers, “Gag law for who?”and presents some of the 11 observations made by the CIESPAL including the allocation of frequencies into three equal parts: public, private and community, the banning of the concentration of frequencies, and media monopolies, and giving priority to national and local production. However, Benitez also criticizes some prominent figures in the Ecuadorian media, assuming they are not the only one in need to be heard:

Quién ha dicho que solo los encopetados comunicadores como Carlos Vera, Bernardo Abad, Jorge Ortiz, Marcelo Dotti, Alfonso Espinoza de los Monteros, Gissela Bayona, entre otros, pueden hacer comunicación en el Ecuador. Son ellos los que se rasgan las vestiduras, no para dolerse del oyente o televidente, sino por que les preocupa el alcance de la ley que podría incomodar a la empresa privada a la que representan. Lo que fastidia a esta élite mediática es que haya una Ley que atente no a la libertad de expresión como tal, sino a la libertad de empresa privada, que se ve afectada con el alcance del proyecto de ley que pretende hacer ciertas reformas necesarias para democratizar parcialmente el derecho a la comunicación.

Who said that only conceited communicators as Carlos Vera, Bernardo Abad, Jorge Ortiz, Marcelo Dotti, Alfonso Espinoza de los Monteros, Gissela Bayonne, among others, can make communication in Ecuador. They are the ones who make a fuss, not out of concern for the listener or viewer, but because they are concerned about the extent of the law that could disturb the private companies they represent. What irks the media elite is that there is no law that infringes on freedom of expression as such, but to the freedom of private businesses, which are affected by the scope of the bill which seeks to make certain reforms to democratize in part the right to communicate.

Another of the major components of the bill would require TV channels to progressively include at least 40% of national production in its daily programming, and radio at least 50% of music produced, composed and/or played in Ecuador. The Latin American country has more than 1500 radio frequencies, 97% belonging to natural and private persons. A radio entrepreneur can accumulate up to 96 frequencies under the previous Ecuadorian communication law.

To professor Hoax, a commenter on Ecuador sin Censura [es] the proposal to which Assemblyman from Guayas, Rolando Pachana, has promoted and contributed, seems to be dedicated in some way to the former TV anchor, now politician and the leader in opposition to Correa along to former president Gutierrez, Carlos Vera. Pachana proposal says that only community journalists do not need certifications.

Universities also have been promoting discussions within their institutions. One example has been in the University of Cuenca, where the President of the Association of Students of the School of Communication [es] says that having to reveal sources as the law proposes, journalism is being impeded to do investigation, and in a way, to apply self-censorship. Diana Medina thinks this is a media law opposed to what they declare:

Siempre han existido regulaciones, pero no se las ha cumplido a cabalidad. Esta no es una ley de comunicación, porque sólo regula el aspecto informativo, no aborda la comunicación institucional, organizacional… es una ley de medios. Creo que la propuesta no fue bien analizada en algunos puntos, al tener que revelar las fuentes no podríamos desarrollar trabajos de investigación, eso daría paso a la autocensura y ningún periodista querrá aplicar una labor de esta índole.

Regulations have always existed, but they have not been fully implemented. This is not an law of communication, because it only regulates the informational aspect, it does not address the institutional and organizational communication … it is a media law. I think the proposal was not well analyzed in some places, having to disclose the sources we could not develop research, that would lead to self-censorship and no journalist will want to implement a work of this nature.

4 comments

  • […] it is an attack on freedom of expression. This recent event is also relevant just as the members of the National Congress are debating the new Communications Law, which was made known after dissolving a previous agreement between assembly members from the […]

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  • […] Last week, President Rafael Correa presented 10 questions in a consulta popular (“popular consultation” [es]), a referendum which amends several areas of the Constitution. The Latin American Herald Tribune explains: This consulta will consist of 10 questions, ranging from opinions on the treatment of animals and gambling to constitutional changes such [as] support for changes to the Corte Consticional [Constitutional Court] and the proposed controversial Ley Orgánica de Comunicación, Libertad de Expresión y Aceso a la Información Pública [The Organic Law of Communication, Freedom of Expression and Access to Public Information] […]

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