The situation of press freedom has deteriorated recently. The media have faced attempts to put into effect a “gag law,” aggressive statements by the president, his team and members of Congress, the refusal of public agencies and the armed forces to release public information and an initial refusal by the government and journalists’ organizations to support the Declaration of Chapultepec. The Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Publishers (AEDEP) hopes that the Freedom of Information Act, proposed in September of 2002, will be passed. The most important events follow: -After the report in El Salvador about the Televisión Satelital case included the company’s accusation that the cable company TV CABLE had taken it out of its lineup, the cable company protested that its version had not been included. TV CABLE says it complies with the requirements of Ecuadorean law. This law requires providing a device to allow customers to choose among the programs the company offers and those on over-the-air television. It also said that the Constitutional Court had ruled in 1995 that a regulation saying that subscription television had to include all the over-the-air channels in a city was unconstitutional. -On April 11 Byron Cornejo Coba, a councilman in the canton El Empalme in Guayas province, attacked journalist Ángel Vera Santos of radio station La Troncal, who had reported allegedly irregular actions by the councilman. -The National Federation of Journalists reported that on May 26 a squad of Navy agents detained journalist Edgar Quiñones Sevilla, a union leader, in Esmeraldas, because of reports Quiñones had made about contracting at the port. He was released a few hours later. -In May the government held a series of meetings called National Dialogues in an attempt to reach agreement on major aspects of life in the country. Among the goals put forward in the dialogue were: debating a new role for the media and the government in changing values, social beliefs, attitudes about development, building citizenship and identity; concluding agreements among all involved in communications to strengthen governability and political stability and establish a commitment to building a civic culture; analyzing the agenda of the media with respect to the government and identifying criteria for improving news coverage. -The AEDEP criticized the imposition of state criteria as a threat to press freedom. -On June 18, Guayaquil police attacked two journalists who were covering an operation to relocate street vendors. They took away the camera of photographer Martín Herrera of El Universo and sprayed tear gas in the face of Xavier Ruiz, a cameraman for Ecuavisa. After the incident, the mayor of Guayaquil said he regretted it and announced that the police officers responsible would be dismissed. -On June 25, the criminal prosecutor of Guayas, in response to a suit by the mayor of Manta in Manabí province, began an investigation of El Universo of Guayaquil and the journalist responsible for a report on “pollution of the beaches of Manta” published April 12. The mayor said the report “damages the city’s image” and discourages tourists from visiting the resort. The pollution problem is so serious in Manta, that it has motivated countless journalistic reports and protests by residents. -In July, Joaquín Zevallos, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Guayaquil, gave President Lucio Gutiérrez a bill that Zevallos said would “combat corruption and defamation.” The bill would incorporate the following text into the Ecuadorean Criminal Code: “Defamation is anything transmitted by the press, television, computers or telephones or any other private or collective medium, that insults the reputation of some or all of the people who make up an association, corporation, group, institution, foundation, organization, guild, ethnic group, or any other collective entity with generalized or indiscriminate accusations that cover all its members, without identifying them, whether these accusations are true or false, certain or uncertain, that might damage the good name, discredit or harm or expose to discredit this group of people.” “Those responsible for these acts shall be punished with a prison sentence from six months to two years.” -In August, the mayor of Morona (in the province of Morona Santiago), Washington Vallejo, brought a libel suit against journalist Wilson Cabrera Riera and demanded $100,000 in damages, alleging that Cabrera Riera had libeled him when he disseminated a recording from of an interview the province’s governor had given another journalist on a radio station in another city. In that interview the governor allegedly libeled the mayor. The journalist was sued because he did not say who had ordered the recording and paid for it. In September, President Gutiérrez said he would send Congress a law to regulate the work of the press because he believes there is a great deal of gossip and unfounded news reports. A few days after the announcement, the government press secretary said that President Gutiérrez meant that he would use existing laws to defend his management and the good name of the government and that his goal was to launch a national campaign against gossip. -In September, Marcelo Cevallos, the president’s press secretary, said the president would not sign the Declaration of Chapultepec, because, he said, Article 8 was against the Ecuadorean legislature. The current Ecuadorean Constitution, in effect since 1998, provides for the right of free association, which invalidates the part of the Law on the Professional Practice of Journalism, issued in 1975 under the military dictatorship, that requires licensing. A few days later, the press secretary said no one has given the president a written request to sign the declaration. Finally, on September 30, the president said he would sign it. On September 22, the dean of the journalism school of the Central University of Ecuador in Quito said Ecuador should not sign the Declaration of Chapultepec because, he said, “there has been no debate, discussion or consensus. The parties involved have not participated or been consulted.” Finally, President Gutiérrez signed the declaration on October 2 during a special ceremony at the general assembly of the International Association of Broadcasting in Guayquil. -In September, the editor of the biweekly Pluma Tabacundeña, Pichincha province, was subpoenaed at the request of the mayor to appear in court to testify about the source of news and opinion articles he had published that criticized the municipal government. The editor, Carlos Puga, says this is part of an attempt to close the publication. -In September, writer Rodrigo Fierro Benítez was sentenced to six months in prison because a judge found “libels and calumny” in an article published May 29, 2003 in El Comercio of Quito. Legislator and ex-president León Febres Cordero, who felt that his family and his good name had been harmed, brought the lawsuit. The trial lasted six months. In his article, Fierro quoted two other people (who spoke of Febres Cordero and his family) and described those who he said had caused the financial crisis as “vultures” and “second-rate businessmen.” The prison sentence was suspended because the writer has appealed and accused the judge of working outside the law and obeying political orders. Fierro has publicly confirmed his position. On the same days that Fierro was sentenced, the Supreme Court ruled that the judicial system should be reformed because it is politicized. -On September 12, Octavio Romero, the head of the joint chiefs of staff of the armed forces, told journalists, “Just as you demand transparency from us, we demand that you tell us where you get information.” The officer asked to review journalistic material before it is published. The following day, an armed forces communiqué said they were ready to cooperate with journalists in their work. -There is a decree in the Government Accounting Office that prohibits its regional representatives from releasing information without advance authorization of the office in Quito. In practice, this rule blocks access to information for media outlets that do not have offices in the capital. -On September 25, Marcelo Cevallos, the president’s press secretary, confirmed that the government was interested in buying the newspaper El Telégrafo, two radio stations and setting up a television channel to communicate the government’s work better. -Currently most of the stock in the newspaper and both radio stations are held by the state-owned Deposit Guarantee Agency, which confiscated them because of the former owner’s debts. On September 30, the government said it would not buy the newspaper. -The proposed Freedom of Information Law proposed by AEDEP in September 2002 was approved during its first debate in Congress. In Ecuador, Congress must debate a bill twice before sending it to the president for his approval or veto.