Accompanied by the police, Ecuador's Agency for Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (Arcotel) seized the equipment of Ecotel TV, one of the most watched television channels in the southern city of Loja, whose signal went off the air.
On its official Twitter account, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (@) published photographs of the event and assured that human rights were fully respected in the process.
(Ahora) La incautación de equipos #EcotelTv se desarrolló con total respeto a los #DerechosHumanos. @PoliciaEcuador. pic.twitter.com/lJ3BBrxrHm
— Min Interior Ecuador (@MinInteriorEc) diciembre 16, 2015
According to Fundamedios, an Ecuadorian NGO that safeguards freedom of speech, Ecotel TV's owner Ramiro Cueva said that the seizure was motivated by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa's words in his 454th weekly address (called “citizen links”) on December 12 branding Cueva a “bitter demagogue disguised as a journalist who only tells lies, he lies to try and harm the national government.”
Correa was referring to a news item that the channel had broadcast criticizing that furniture from the Gualaquiza San Juan Bosco Education Unit, which is situated in west Ecuador, had been moved to the city of Loja to the Bernardo Valdivieso Millennium College for the inauguration of that school by Correa on December 8.
Cueva said that while all that was true, he did acknowledge that the legal pretext for the seizure dates back to a case against the channel for failing to pay a fine that was filed in 2002 by the then National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL). According to newspaper El Comercio, the station was ordered to stop broadcasting last year, but the ruling was appealed.
The statement made by Fundamedios maintains that the channel is going through a legal procedure, which is the cornerstone of the legal justification for the seizure:
En esa fecha, el entonces Consejo Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (CONATEL), mediante resolución RTV-653-23-CONTAEL-2014 dispuso “iniciar el proceso de terminación anticipada y unilateral del contrato de concesión del canal 22 UHF” de Ecotel TV, celebrado en agosto de 1996 y renovado en julio de 2008, por una supuesta mora en el pago de las tarifas de uso de concesión ocurrida en el año 2002 y por un valor de USD 151,20 dólares.
On that date, the then National Council of Telecommunications (CONATEL), through resolution RTV-653-23-CONTAEL-2014 decided to “initiate the process of early and unilateral termination of the concession contract of channel 22 UHF” of Ecotel TV, entered into in August 1996 and renewed in July 2008, for alleged arrears of the fees for the use of the concession occurred in 2002 for US$151.20.
El Comercio reports that Ecotel TV has been on air for 19 years in the province of Loja, employing 42 people and broadcasting 18 locally produced programs and four news bulletins.
The Fundamedios statement continued:
Esa entidad se basó en la Disposición Transitoria Décima y en el artículo 112, numeral 10 de la Ley Orgánica de Comunicación (LOC) para retirar la frecuencia al medio televisivo. Dicha Disposición se refiere a la potestad legal para revertir la frecuencia de los medios de comunicación que no hayan iniciado sus operaciones en el plazo señalado; los que no hayan pagado las tarifas de uso de concesión; los que hayan arrendado por más de dos años su frecuencia, entre otras, para lo cual tomará en cuenta un informe presentado por la Comisión para la Auditoría de las Concesiones de las Frecuencias de Radio y Televisión de mayo de 2009.
CONATEL based their decision on the Tenth Transitional Provision and Article 112, paragraph 10 of the Organic Law on Communication to stop the channel from broadcasting. This provision refers to the legal authority to revert the frequencies of media outlets that have not started operating within the prescribed period; those that have not paid the fees for use of concession; those who have leased their frequencies for longer than two years, among others, for which it will take into account a report presented by the Commission for the Audit of Television and Radio Frequency Concessions of May 2009.
This is the second seizure the station has undergone. On December 5, 2013, a police operation raided the premises in the early hours of the morning to confiscate equipment from Ecotel Radio stations.
In the meantime, the channel is broadcasting from its website Ecotel.TV.
Ecoteltv al aire por lo pronto en sistemas de cable y online en Loja y provincia al momento. Seguimos en pie pic.twitter.com/AYwcvJnQcs
— Ecotel (@EcotelRadio) diciembre 17, 2015
For now, Ecoteltv is airing through cable systems and online in Loja at the moment. Stay tuned
In the afternoon, dozens of people gathered outside the channel's premises in solidarity with Ecotel TV.
Primer Reporte (@primereporte) tweeted this image:
— Primer Reporte (@primereporte) diciembre 16, 2015
Support | Social groups support and unite with the television station @EcotelRadio.
The past few years have not been kind to freedom of expression in Ecuador. Memes from Crudo Ecuador, which lampooned the president and his government, are still fresh in many Ecuadorians’ minds, nearly a year after the owner shut down the site following threats. Most recently, one citizen was imprisoned for allegedly clapping during a protest, as well as a political leader for revealing nepotism within the government.
Loja: Ecotel TV off air… the Saturday, you-know-who ranted against the channel
Solidarity: New setback for freedom of expression. Correismo raids @ecoteltv and seizes equipment, removing it from the air
According to the blog Journalism in the Americas, Ecuador approved a vague and broad law that gives the government the authority to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press in 2013.