ECUADOR The principal threats to freedom of the press and expression in Ecuador are long-standing laws awaiting reform and some bills currently in Congress. In April, the president of Congress ordered that journalists on the legislative beat carry out their coverage from a room equipped with an audio system where they could listen to lawmakers’ remarks. Days later, journalists were allowed into the legislative chamber itself, but the written press was sent to the rows in the back, while the rest were allowed broader access. Following complaints, all reporters were allowed the access they had previously enjoyed. In August, Congress’ Oversight and Political Control Commission issued a “Report on the complaint by the daily El Telégrafo about an alleged boycott of the placement of government advertising” in the newspaper. The legislators’ report, based on the principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec, demanded that the government publish ads in the paper. The government previously said it had not done so because of the paper’s small market penetration. In September, Muriel Merino, an intern at the daily Hoy, was covering a march in Quito of militant groups pressing for social change. He was approached by persons identifying themselves as government security agents, who requested that he become a police informant. By way of explanation, they had observed that he had received , from a young man, a written offer for an interview with the Group of Popular Combatants (GCP). The journalists turned the agents down but his documents were photocopied by the agents, who were examining GCP connections with the Colombian FARC guerrilla group of with the Colombian government’s anti-narcotics program, officially known as Plan Colombia. Also in September, an Hoy photographer was held for 90 minutes on the orders of Isidro Anaya, the director of the Maternity hospital, who demanded he remove his film from the camera and ruin it by exposing it. He refused to do so and was allowed to leave. The Association of Ecuadorean Newspaper Publishers (AEDEP) continues to seek to prevent enactment of the new laws at odds with the interests of the press. Among them is the draft of a Consumer Defense Law which would make news media responsible for ads placed by advertisers. The Code on Childhood and Adolescence would require all news organizations to disseminate daily information about youth and include a section with news in Quichua, the native language of Ecuadorean indigenous people. Among the main pending legislative modifications are: Article 81 of the Constitution which states: “The State guarantees the right of access to information sources; to search, receive, know of truthful, pluralistic and timely information, disseminated without prior censorship, of developments of general interest, which preserve community values especially on the part of journalists and social communicators.” Article 230 of the Criminal Procedures Code identifies what kind of motives can be considered contempt liable to punishment: threats or insults that offend the President of the Republic or whomever functions as the head of the Executive branch. This gives broad powers for the authorities to restrict opponents and journalists. Congress is debating whether it should retain a foreign investment ceiling of 25 percent in news organizations. One legislative proposal is to prevent simultaneous ownership of news media, banks and utilities. In practice, application of the law would be very difficult owing to its restrictive nature. The AEDEP has presented an alternative text which respects the spirit of the law and at the same time does not restrict foreign investment in news organizations. Jaime Toral Zalamea, an attorney, was in his fourth year of journalism studies at Guayaquil State University when there was an incident ending in gunfire. The University Council decided to expel Toral because it considered him responsible for the affair. Toral filed an appeal saying his constitutional rights had been violated. A constitutional court revoked the expulsion, allowing Toral to return to class, pending review by a higher constitutional court. One complicating factor is that Toral is allegedly linked to criminal organizations. He publicly stated that he pays the tuition of 1,200 journalism students. The majority of newspapers have expressed concern in editorials about the forthcoming ruling of the higher constitutional court, because several of that court’s members have received threats. On October 6, the high court denied Toral’s motion.