57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 ECUADOR A number of new events threaten freedom of the press and information. The threat is chiefly from the court system, where judges have imposed penalties on journalists for expressing opinions and posing questions that were not to politicians’ liking. A positive precedent was also set since the last report, when a judge dismissed the complaint filed against the magazine Vistazo by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. The case marked the first time a Web page was admitted as evidence for the defense. In July Congressman Fernando Rosero of the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party (led by former president Abdalá Bucaram) sued Jorge Vivanco Riofrío, the managing editor of the newspaper Expreso, for libel and emotional distress allegedly caused by the article “Los Generales No Se Defienden (The Generals Offer No Defense).” The million-dollar lawsuit is currently in the discovery phase. On July 25 journalist Malena Cardona of the “Tribuna Libre” program on Portoviejo’s Televisión Manabita television station was sentenced to one month in prison and fined 80 sucres. Manabí Criminal Court Judge No. 4, Ivonne Sánchez, had found Cardona guilty under Article 495 of the Criminal Code of committing “gross libel not involving falsely accusing a person of a crime” against Congressman Roberto Rodríguez of the Ecuadorian Roldosista Party. Cardona will not be required to serve prison time, because she has no criminal record. The judgment has been appealed on the grounds that procedural requirements were not fully satisfied, as Cardona’s defense attorney asserts. Andrés Seminario Valenzuela has filed a criminal complaint that his opinion program “Análisis,” which is broadcast over the CN3 cable channel, was censored under pressure from the administration of President Gustavo Noboa. Seminario stated that the pressure came after the July 27, 2001 broadcast focusing on the Filanbanco case, which aired under the title “Le Informo, Señor Presidente (For Your Information, Mr. President).” Filanbanco was a private bank that had failed at the time it was being managed by the government. The bank was owned by the Isaías family, which also control the CN3 channel. Journalist Wilson Cabrera was sentenced to three months in prison for reporting on alleged irregularities at government agencies and in the administration of justice in his province, Morona Santiago, which is located in the eastern part of the country. Cabrera will also be required to pay damages. The court found him guilty of “gross libel not involving falsely accusing a person of a crime.” Cabrera is the editor of the newspaper El Observador and radio station Canela FM, which he founded five years ago, and nine months ago, respectively. Cabrera maintains that the executive branch and the courts in his province do not allow freedom of the press, and believes he is being harassed by those government authorities. The judgment was issued on November 28, 2000 by Morona Santiago Criminal Court Judge No. 2, Milton Avila. In August 2001 Guayaquil Civil Court Judge No. 10 dismissed the complaint filed by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God against the magazine Vistazo and journalist Marlon Puertas. The Church had sued the magazine for publishing a report in August 1999 that it considered damaging to its reputation, seeking four million dollars in damages. The judge also disallowed the counterclaim that had been brought by the magazine in the case. The Church has appealed the judge’s decision, and as a result the case has moved to the next stage of the judicial process in the Guayaquil Superior Court. According to Vistazo’s defense attorney, the judge’s decision establishes precedent for similar cases. As a basis for the decision, the judge admitted into evidence a Web page the journalist had used as a source for certain information. There is no applicable case law, so this case could be hailed as a first which establishes a precedent for future cases. Certain bills before Ecuador’s legislature run counter to the principles of freedom of the press, as has been reported previously. Currently before the National Congress is the draft Children and Teenagers Code (Código de la Niñez y la Adolescencia), which has passed the first stage of the approval process. The obligations imposed on media outlets include: “Establish and provide in newspapers special sections for children and teenagers, which advance their rights and responsibilities and meet their developmental needs and need for information.” “Establish special sections and languages to meet the communication needs of children and teenagers with disabilities.” “Provide space free of charge for the publication of court orders and administrative directives, as well as announcements placed by institutions or individuals to locate children, teenagers, parents or relatives.” “Offer programming that educates, entertains and informs children and teenagers during family viewing time.”