All the attacks that the government of Ecuador has made for four years against freedom of expression will come to a head in a referendum that President Rafael Correa has called for May 7. Buoyed by the popularity that he has achieved through an abusive promotion of his individualist, populist and welfare state government, abusing the media which after seizing them from its old owners the government now uses, Correa intends to bring about the creation of a regulatory and media content control body and clamp on the owners and executives of the media a ban on their having any other financial activity outside the press so as supposedly to prevent conflicts of interest. This referendum will also serve to fulfill an old presidential wish resisting the independence of the branches of government, as the president himself announced that this referendum is “to take a hand in the judiciary.” The referendum envisions the president restructuring the nation’s courts. On February 15 the Constitutional Court approved, with slight modification, the 10 referendum questions submitted by President Correa. Two of them concern the creation of a Regulatory Council empowered to regulate media content and establish ultimate responsibility, and a ban on privately-owned news companies, their directors and principal shareholders from owning any shares outside the news business. Previously, on January 17, it was learned of two of the 10 questions in the referendum sent to the Court, question number 4 saying that “with the aim of preventing excesses in the news media” a law shall be enacted which creates “a Regulatory Council that regulates the dissemination on television and radio and in print publications information that contains reports of violence, explicitly of a sexual or discriminatory nature, and which establishes the criteria for the ultimate responsibility of the media.” Question number 3 in the “Constitutional Amendments” section invites views on the suggestion that “with the aim of avoiding conflicts of interests … privately-owned news companies of a national nature, their directors and principal shareholders are prohibited from being owners or having a shareholding outside the financial or news areas, respectively.” Some days after the approval of the questions Correa said that the one which would create the body to regulate the media in the referendum is so that “the press does not become this country’s Supreme Court.” He went on to reproach TV announcers for expressing an opinion about the constitutionality of the referendum questions, charging that now “these pretty little things are experts in constitutional law. Any blushing bimbo, because she presents the news, thus becomes a constitutional expert. This is an indication of the corruption and lack of professionalism of our press.” In the midst of the campaign regarding the referendum Correa is heading the state apparatus of constant attacks upon journalists. He charged reporters Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita with “causing harm to reputation.” The motive was publication of the book “El Gran Hermano” (Big Brother) which reported on contracts that Fabricio Correa, his brother, had made with the Ecuadorean government. These contracts amounted to some $700 million, according to the investigating panel named by the President himself. Correa is asking for indemnity of $10 million for having been “subjected to great humiliation, that has brought serious social and moral discredit,” and which had caused him “great suffering, anguish and pain.” Some days later Correa said that if the journalists said they were sorry he would withdraw the lawsuit, which they declined to do. Correa also resorted to the courts for punishment of Emilio Palacio, a columnist with El Universo, for an op-ed piece in which there was a reference to September 30 and added in the suit the alleged “co-participation” of the publishing company and the newspapers’ three senior executives – the brothers Carlos, César and Nicolás Pérez – for whom he asked for not only three years’ imprisonment for libel but also that they be ordered to pay him a total of $80 million to recompense him for alleged pain and suffering. He resorted also to threatening to sue Marcos Sovenis, a citizen who had called him “Fascist.” Before the threat to be taken to court Sovenis was beaten about the head, back, neck and stomach (which injured his liver and kidneys) by Correa’s bodyguards. In an environment of persecution of differing ways of thinking and of the freedom of expression of the media and citizens the second half of 2010 also resulted in more prisoners calling themselves politicians and whom the government accuses of carrying out “conspiratory” acts. Police colonel César Carrión has spent months behind bars accused of assassination, after he related to CNN his version of what had happened in the police hospital on that September 30, when the police staged a revolt and ended up in a shootout ordered by the president. The president denied what Carrión had told CNN on October 20. Fidel Araujo, head of the opposition party Sociedad Patriótica, is another of Correa’s targets for attack for having been outside the place when the police revolt occurred. He is accused of having planned it, without any evidence being produced. There are also a large number of serving police officers in jail. On December 17 the magazine Vanguardia, a critic of the government, was the object of a police raid in which its materials were seized. The government was demanding the payment for rental for the state-owned property that the magazine occupied in Quito, but Vanguardia insisted it owed no money. Its computers were carried off with all the information they contained and have yet to be returned. Other relevant developments in chronological order: On November 8 journalist Wilson Cabrera, owner of La Voz de la Esmeralda Oriental Canela in Macas, Morona Santiago province, complained that the National Telecommunications Council (Conatel) had denied him renewal of his broadcast license. This amounted, Cabrera said, to a reprisal for criticism he had made on his program “Primera Plana” (Front Page). On November 13 the Quito daily newspaper El Comercio reported on a campaign to discredit it. The media under state control, El Comercio said, had reproduced a story about alleged tax evasion by the newspaper, even though the matter was still under investigation and the source had not been verified. On November 16 the El Universo offices in Quito were broken into by unidentified assailants who entered by breaking down one of the building’s main doors. On November 19 Policy Minister Doris Solis requested information (copies of checks and invoices) about the advertising contract made between the newspaper El Universo and opposition activist Carlos Vera, who led a petition for the end of the president’s term in office. The request had no legal basis as it was a private contract. On November 23 sports reporter Rómulo Barcos received a death threat during a march against lack of safety that was held in Guayaquil. Barcos, whose only son had been murdered on November 20, was one of the organizers of the demonstration. On November 26 Juan Alcívar, correspondent of the newspaper La Hora and reporter for the radio station El Nuevo Sol, was physically assaulted, insulted and issued a death threat allegedly by Ronald Lara Heras, the mayor’s cousin, and three other assailants in the town of La Concordia, 198 miles from Quito. On November 21 Emilio Palacio, a columnist with El Universo, reported in his column that Gutemberg Vera, the lawyer of a number of government officials, “went to the Attorney General’s Office to demand that they investigate Palacio for conspiring to falsify public documents.” On December 2 Guido Manolo Campaña, an El Universo reporter, was abducted whole investigating in Esmeraldas province the falsification of the identity of a soccer player. He was held for six hours, being tied up, beaten and threatened. Before freeing him his captors warned that they would kill him and attack his family if he made the investigation public. The information was in fact published but there were no reprisals, nor were there police of state attorney inquiries into the incident. On December 3 opposition member of Congress Galo Lara accused three people he said were officials of the Presidency of persecution and managed to have the police arrest them. Fernando Alvarado, the government Communication Minister, went to the police station to defend them and claimed that they were in fact three journalists from Gama TV, the television channel taken over by the government. On December 17 a Human Rights Watch report questioned the Correa government’s intention to closely control the activities of non-governmental organizations and to dissolve those that engaged in political propaganda. International organizations interested in carrying out activities in Ecuador would also be subject to such control. During December on two consecutive occasions there was failure to comply with an order by Guayas Criminal Court Judge Ángel Rubio allowing staff of the magazine Vanguardia to reproduce a copy of news reports contained on the hard drives of 25 impounded computers. On December 20 the Web site deplored what it regarded as offensive remarks made against it by Colonel Lucio Gutiérrez over publication of a Wikileaks cable that mentioned that he had met with the United States ambassador in Colombia. On December 21 Fabricio Lapo, correspondent of television channel Ecuavisa, and Miguel Lituma, a reporter with the Machala newspaper Opinión, complained that the local police headquarters had banned them from covering that source, as a reprisal for having published information that it regarded as “confidential.” On December 30 Enrique Arosemena, general manager of Ecuador TV, created by the Correa administration, reported that he had been threatened in a phone call in which he was warned “don’t screw Pablo Guerrero any more” – a reference to a man accused tofhaving broken into the television station on September 30. On January 3 Elizabeth Cárdenas, a Labor Court associate judge, rejected a formal plea for protection submitted by Wilson Cabrera, a journalist and owner of radio station La Voz de la Esmeralda Oriental Canela, after the National Telecommunications Council (Conatel) ordered the Telecommunications Superintendent’s Office (Supertel) to shut down the station operating in the Amazon basin city of Macas. On January 31 for the third time the government interrupted the program “Los Desayunos de 24 Horas” (The 24-Hour Breakfasts) broadcast by Teleamazonas with the intent of questioning the comments and opinions raised by the program host, María Josefa Coronel, or by one of her guests. On the first occasion, on January 18, questioned was the way that Coronel had evaluated the president’s administration. The second time, on January 25, she was described as an opposition political player and then poor women were introduced to speak out against Coronel. On February 2 José Acacho, former director of the radio station La Voz de Arutam and head of the Shuar Foundation, was taken into custody over a lawsuit that had been brought against him on a charge of sabotage and terrorism for alleging inciting protests over the radio during a September 30, 2009 strike in the Amazon region in which Professor Bosco Wisum was killed. On February 7 El Universo complained on its news pages about its access to information being prevented by the refusal of two notaries public in Quito to hand over a copy of a sworn statement about the property owned by Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, who has also been minister in other areas in the Correa administration. On February 10 the news team of Telemar in the city of Esmeraldas was attacked by prosecutor Jhonny Bedoya and a police officer, who attempted to seize his video camera and prevent him from filming during a police operation. The prosecutor demanded that he erase the material and ordered the police officers to take his camera, saying it was “confiscated.” The same day the opinion program “Contacto Directo” (Direct Contact) aired by Ecuavisa was interrupted for nearly 10 minutes by a government announcement criticizing former president Lucio Gutiérrez, who had been invited the previous day to appear on that program. On February 15 the Quito radio station newscast was interrupted for 15 minutes by a government hookup comprising criticism, questioning and discrediting of an interview held the day before by Miguel Rivadeneira, a reporter and director of that radio station, with the coordinator of the oversight team investigating contracts made by the president’s brother, Fabricio Correa, with the government. On February 16 a government announcement interrupted for nearly 10 minutes the opinion program of radio station Democracia hosted by Gonzalo Rosero to discredit opposition member of Congress Galo Lara, who had been interviewed the previous day on that program. On February 20 Communication Minister Fernando Alvarado described as “hitmen of the ink” El Universo and its columnist Emilio Palacio, the magazine Vanguardia, Expreso managing editor José Hernández, and the Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Publishers. Alvarado said they were “hitmen of the ink and merchants of information because they murder the truth for commercial interests.” On February 21 Communication Minister Fernando Alvarado complained to the Telecommunications Superintendent’s Office that the television station Ecuavisa had been at fault in superimposing a graphic with the words “Cadena del Gobierno” (Government Hookup) during the broadcast of one. That same day Ángel Ben Alcazar, a reporter with the Esmeraldas television station Megavisión, and cameraman Lizandro Loor were threatened and prevented from covering an event at the Quinindé city hall, where the government takeover of operation of an electrical sub-station was being announced. On February 26 President Correa called El Universo “a conspirator” and “irresponsible” and accused it of “sowing discord” by allegedly undertaking a campaign to make the police fall out with the government after publishing what the president described as rumors and statements taken out of context concerning future changes to the police structure that he planned. The president repeated the charges against the press, which he called “corrupt,” “yellow” and “manipulating.” Seven days later, on March 5, Correa during his Saturday address to the nation announced that he would bring criminal charges against any person who intended to insult him and confirmed the suit taken out against Marcos Sovenis, because calling him “Fascist” was a crime, and he criticized the press for saying that he was acting against a citizen who had expressed his thoughts. On March 2 a second government hookup to question the Ecuavisa program “Contacto Directo” (Direct Contact) was broadcast. The first one, on February 28, had been the same as this one, aimed at questioning journalist Alfredo Pinoargote, who was said to have made comments “out of all logic.” On March 5 the president also dedicated a part of his Saturday address to the nation to criticism of Pinoargote, airing a video with similar content as that of the two hookups. Correa insinuated that Pinoargote was “a gofer of the local powers-that-be” and even questioned his intelligence quotient. “This Pinoargote has average intelligence. He believes himself intelligent, he is neither foolish nor stupid, but because of his bad faith he becomes even thick,” Correa declared, referring to the interview that Pinoargote had had with Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot. That same Saturday Correa again discredited the work of the privately-owned news media, accusing them of being “manipulators, mediocre, corrupt, conspirators, hitmen of the ink and in favor of a coup.” He criticized the decision of the National Electoral Council (CNE) to prohibit him from campaigning in his Saturday addresses to the nation, declaring that this responded to “the pressures of the corrupt press because they fear what the president might say.” He described as untruthful and manipulating the articles published by the newspapers El Comercio and La Hora and the magazine Vanguardia about the low level of audience for his Saturday addresses. Correa accused the newspaper El Comercio of having incited the murder of General Eloy Alfaro in an article published on January 11, saying that the news media “has always been like that, the sowers of hatred, accomplices to murder and then they tear their clothes in the name of freedom of expression.” He went on to accuse the newspaper Hoy of favoring a coup because of a cartoon that said “Correa is fed up with the Navy,” taking advantage of the occasion to once more charge that the news media was behind what had occurred on September 30. And despite all the lawsuits that Correa says he takes out as a citizen “on a personal basis” on March 28 the government dedicated a national television hookup to question and criticize investigative reporters Juan Carlos Calderón and Christian Zurita, authors of the book “El Gran Hermano” (Big Brother), which discloses contracts made by the president’s brother, Felpe Correa, with the government. During the hookup, which lasted nearly six minutes, it was declared that the book’s authors “lie and cannot support their claims” regarding an interview in which it was said that “Yes, Rafael Correa knew” about these contracts.