ECUADOR Report to the Midyear Meeting Caracas, Venezuela March 28 - 30, 2008 The tone of the government’s threats and attacks against press freedom softened considerably in recent weeks. President Rafael Correa publicly thanked the media for their role during the diplomatic conflict with Colombia. The most serious event was the government’s threat against the Ecuavisa television channel for broadcasting an audio tape of conversations among Navy officers disclosing certain unknown aspects of the recent internal crisis in that branch of the armed forces. Ecuavisa representatives appeared on March 5 before the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Council (Conartel) to give their version of the facts, but Conartel has not yet ruled The focus on freedom of the press in Ecuador is now on what the Constituent Assembly will decide. During the debate there have been suggestions of state intervention, but so far there have been no concrete proposals. It has been almost one year since President Rafael Correa filed a criminal complaint for desacato (insult) against La Hora. The Quito daily has presented defense evidence in recent months, but the prosecutor has not yet said whether there will be a formal charge or if the case will be shelved. The deadline is May 10. Meanwhile, the government is continuing its plan to establish its own media system. The state channel TV Ecuador began broadcasting sporadically last December. The daily state-owned El Telégrafo was redesigned and resumed publication in Berlin format in the middle of March with heavy government advertising. It was also announced that the old Radio Nacional and El Telégrafo (which went into state ownership along with the newspaper of the same name) will soon be back on the air and in print. Other important events are the following: On October 13, the president filed a lawsuit before the Constitutional Court to overturn the obligatory colegio membership required for several professions, including journalism. On March 12, the court issued Resolution No. 38-2008 declaring it unconstitutional. The ruling cites the opinion of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights that the IAPA had lodged through the Costa Rican government in 1985. However, the resolution is not yet in effect and has not been published in the Official Register. For that reason, a clarification and explanation have been requested. On October 26, about 20 people led by a municipal official attacked a team of Teleamazonas reporters that was reporting on the purchase of an overpriced ambulance in Balzar, Guayas. Later the local channel Visión TV was stoned after reporting the attack on the Teleamazonas reporters. On October 29, Conartel questioned the broadcast by La Voz de la Peninsula, Ritmo y Panorama and Brisa TV channel of marches in favor of making Santa Elena peninsula a province. It was suggested that they had incited violence. On November 7, President Correa announced a challenge to the constitutionality of the makeup of the leadership of that Conartel. He questioned the presence of the Ecuadorian Radio Broadcasting Association (AER) and the Ecuadorian Association of TV Channels (AECTV), as a conflict of interest. A month later, Conartel changed its position and began a process of reversion, first with the repeater stations of Morena radio in Manabí and Santa Elena provinces and later extending the decision to 42 other frequencies in February . A report by the controller’s office reportedly confirmed the report of illegal acts by the radio stations. On December 29, Conartel investigated 15 stations in Guayaquil, Machala and Portoviejo because of their coverage of a march led by Jaime Nebot, the mayor of Guayaquil. The march toward Montecristi on December 27 was blocked by police in the area of La Cadena, 70 kilometers from Guayaquil. The Guayaquil branch of the AER sent a letter to the agency expressing its confusion about the request, arguing that “we would not like to think that is was an act of repression or intimidation.” The broadcasters’ association suggested that the stations send in the material that was requested “although there is no judicial requirement,” as a gesture to show respect for the citizens. The recordings were handed over on January 3. Conartel closed the case, urging Radio Sucre and Radio Caravana not to use “epithets, insults or inappropriate vocabulary.” On January 5, President Correa made public information from the Internal Revenue Service about several television and written press companies’ sales, relating them to taxes they had paid without disclosing their expenses. The president concluded that he did it, “so you can see who we face and from whom we get the news,” since a new tax law presented by the executive branch is being debated in the Assembly. On January 31, legislator Pilar Nuñez introduced a proposal in the Constituent Assembly to declare radio and television frequencies part of the national and social heritage which at least would imply the reversion of all assigned frequencies. On February 7, Conartel evaluated the broadcasts of radio station La Luna, owned by legislator Paco Velasco of the PAIS movement. He reportedly insulted the former economy minister Marucio Pozo during a broadcast. On the same day, journalists of Diario Súper were attacked by members of the National Police at the offices of the Banco Nacional de Fomento de Milagro. They were seeking information about people harmed by the distribution of urea and the poor service they receive at the bank. Two uniformed police officers tried to stop them from doing their work. On February 11, Jorge Yunda, the president of Conartel, was questioned about the awarding of a frequency when he was still part of the government. He said that he returned it on December 19 of last year for reasons of personal ethics.