05 March 2015
The right to freedom of expression is confronting two clearly identified sectors. On the one hand those who advocate the free exercise of speech and even humor and on the other those in government, with a campaign that seeks to silence and discredit not only news media but anyone who gives an opinion or belief, according to there is making opposition. The climate of ill-will towards the media has its greatest expression in the Saturday morning hookups of President Rafael Correa. In the segments “Freedom of expression now is everyone’s!” “The joke of the week,” “The bitterness of the week” or “The comic of the week” it is normal to hear the president use such epithets as “perverse,” “unspeakable,” “embittered,” “dishonest,” “poisoned” to discredit a media outlet or a journalist. The presidential criticisms are also aimed at the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) and at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for accepting the requests of various local social organizations. Another means of criticizing independent media are the publicly-owned media. An example of this was the note in the newspapers of the Ecuadorean Presidency, El Ciudadano, headlined “The Guayaquil press was silent and justified the 1922 massacre,” in which were accused the newspapers El Universo and El Comercio of being silent and justifying the deaths occurring after the workers’ march of November 15 that year. The information was repeated in the government newspaper El Telégrafo, on the television channel Gamatv appropriated by the government and mentioned on several occasions by President Correa in his Saturday hookups. The Superintendence of Information and Communication (Supercom) and the Communication Council (Cordicom) are the governmental bodies from which the media are watched. The work of these control bodies is translated into five warnings, seven pecuniary fines, four rectifications, four obligatory responses, four required apologies, seven written warnings, two suspensions of radio frequencies and three ordered responses to be broadcast during specific radio programs. Of the 37 disciplinary measures imposed in these last five month the majority of them were taken on radio news media outlets (16), the press (11) and television (8) and on a cartoonist and a mayor. As a product of this control the television channel Teleamazonas decided to take off the air the comic programs “La Pareja Feliz” (The Happy Couple) and “Vivos” (Alive). Acting in the same way was radio station Exa, taking a questioned program off the air. The Supercom also sanctioned the first case of “media lynching” brought by sports leader Luis Chiriboga of the Ecuadorean Football Federation, requiring the channel to apologize for comments aired in a sports program. One of the frequencies cut out was that of the radio of the National Journalists Union (UNP), a station with 34 years’ history. Beyond the punishments by the bodies of control some events have stood out in recent months. In November the Communication Ministry (Secom) in a three-minute-long spot titled “La verdadera libertad” (True Freedom) dramatized banking, the press and certain business groups as confronting a person named “freedom.” Television channels Ecuavisa and Teleamazonas aired the video under protest because it was violating current legal norms. The Business Chamber also questioned that distorted picture of the business sectors. Despite the observations Cordicom declared that the spot did not violate the Commuication Law and questioned the channels for placing warnings to the public about the content. Since November last year both the newspaper El Universo and its cartoonist, Xavier Bonilla, known as Bonil, faced trial over the allegation that the cartoon published on August 5, 2014 that alluded to mistakes by a Congressman belonging to the Alianza País party, Agustín Delgado, while reading a report violated the Communication Law. Despite public apologies that the newspaper and the cartoonist offered Cordicom ordered the broadcast of a video which endorsed the Congressman’s claim and made two reports – technical and legal – as the foundation for acceptance of the complaint presented by 14 representatives of various Afro-Ecuadorean organizations against Bonil. On February 13 Supercom punished El Universo with the publication, in the same space, of a public apology to the groups that felt affected by the allegedly discriminatory content and reprimanded Bonilla in writing, warning him to correct his practice and abstain from acts at odds with current legal norms. The silencing of the humor had its corollary in the going on air of the Facebook page “Crudo Ecuador” (Raw Ecuador) on February 19 after receiving a bouquet with threats to his life and that of his family. The incident began after the page, specializing in making jokes that go viral on the Web, published a photo of the president shopping in a European mall. After the presidential discrediting of the page and the threats received the site published a farewell text under the title “Mr. President, You Won.” In addition, four activists’ Twitter accounts critical of the regime were shut down at the request of the Spanish company Ares Right, the same one that on previous occasions in the name of the public television channel Ecuador Tv has managed to shut down YouTube videos uncomfortable for the government. The interventions of President Correa to silence the humor have had an international echo. On two occasions the host of the program “Last Week Tonight” on the HBO channel, John Oliver, satirized the president. Mery Zamora, former head of the National Teachers Union, was the victim of harassment on social media with the sowing of intimate photo montages of her. She denounced these actions as part “of the hatred and persecution” of which she is victim in order to discredit her. She stressed that the persecution of her during more than five years had arisen from President Correa’s Saturday hookups and in television networks. In another area Ecuavisa reporter Teo Posso and his news team were physically and verbally attacked by supposed supporters of a soccer team when it reported on a possible standstill of the Ecuadorean Championship. Journalists who are frequently discredited in the presidential hookups are: Alfredo Pinoargote, Diego Oquendo, Alfonso Espinoza de los Monteros, Gonzalo Rosero and cartoonist Bonil. The main events in this period: O October 25 in the people’s hookup number 396in the segment “Freedom of Expression Is Now Everybody’s!” Vice President Jorge Glass questioned the report headlined “Annotation of $29.3 million in the Del Pacifico Refinery contract” in the newspaper Expreso. He said that the report misrepresented the truth of the refinery contract and that is why he insisted it be rectified. On October 14, 23 and 28 Supercom notified the newspaper Extra about the initiation of three administrative proceedings for alleged violations of articles of the Communication Organic Law (LOC) referring to the prohibition of discriminatory content; ethics concerning unhealthy treatment of information and respect for constitutional precepts of verification, timeliness, contextualization and corroboration of information. On October 30 amid the climate of aggression against the media a group of supporters of the Deportivo Quito soccer team beat up staff of the television station Ecuavisa, a group that among its jobs was coverage of the crisis of that Quito team. On October 31 Supercom decided to punish television station Teleamazonas for broadcasting five chapters of the comical series “The Happy Couple” in which, according to it, was “discriminatory content for reason of sex and sexual orientation.” The station paid a fine equivalent to 5% of the average subscription of the last three months, according to its tax declarations submitted to the Internal Revenue Service (SRI). On November 1 in the people’s hookup number 397 President Correa again tore up a copy of the newspaper La Hora after criticizing one of its reports, saying “… look at the headline of the newspaper La Hora, at the pronouncement of the Constitutional Court they headline it ‘They denied the popular request’ and its shows the photo of that court’s judges, this is a lie, and let’s see who claims not, they are putting on the judges anything, watch out, they are tputtingthe photo of a lying journalist, boy! Inter-American Court, IAPA look how it is being put in danger because it took the photo of a journalist, look how they put in on the front page….” Later in the segment “Freedom of expression now is everyone’s!” in the people’s hookup number 397 President Correa criticized the denunciations of representatives of social organizations in Ecuador to the IACHR in Washington, D.C. He showed a video with accusations against the government, among them the case of El Universo brought to the IACHR. Following the video Correa criticized the position of the international body regarding Ecuador. On the same hookup, in the segment “The sadness of the week,” there is presented a video with criticism of an article headlined “Pajonales” by Alfredo Pinoargote published in the magazine Vistazo, whom Correa described as a politico disguised as a journalist. Then in the segment “The comic of the week” an attack is made on journalists Alfredo Pinoargate and Diego Oquendo for having referred to the financing of the development bond increase to $50. On November 4 President Correa during a conversation with Guayaquil media journalists he referred to El Universo as “The Perverse”, this because of his statements abut the placing of a statute of a bootblack boy in the4 Guayaquil district of Panamá. On November 5 Supercom took in a complaint against cartoonist Bonil and El Universo on the grounds that a cartoon about Alianza País Congressman Agustín Delgado published on August 5, 2014 violated Article 62 of the Communication Law. The cartoon alludes to Delgado and his mistakes while reading a report to the full Congress. Both the cartoonist and the newspaper offer apologies to Delgado two days after the publication and Cordicom on August 8 ordered the transmission of a video that supported the Congressman’s protest. Later, Cordicom drew up two reports – technical and legal – as grounds for accepting the formal complaint submitted by 14 representatives of various Afro-Ecuadorean organizations against Bonil. On February 9 there was held the second hearing in the case and on February 13 Supercom ordered both the cartoonist and the newspaper to publish in the same space a public apology to the groups that felt affected by the allegedly discriminating content by reaons of their socio-economic condition. Additionally a written reprimand was made to Bonil, warning him of the obligation to correct ad improve his practices n the full and effective exercise of the rights of communication and he was advised to abstain from repeating the offense of engaging in acts that are contrary to the Communication Organic Law. On this matter President Correa pronounced on several occasions. In the Saturday hookup of January 17 he declared that the cartoon went against human rights; on February 14 he repeated his support for Delgado despite what he considered a campaign against him. He insisted that the cartoon was racist and discriminatory and declared that “here we all are going to be under the Law and there is going to be respect for the rights of others.” On November 8 the Saturday hookup number 398 was the framework for again attacking several journalists. In the segment “The double morality of the week” Correa questioned the opinions of Alfredo Pinoargote and he called him “poisonous and bitter.” He attacked El Universo because, according to him, his words were manipulated so that the people would think that he is afraid of popular consultation supported Guillermo Lasso. He also questioned Ecuavisa for putting the president’s declarations regarding the bootblack chills statute in downtown Guayaquil. On November 10 Secom issued, in all news media, a national-level pronouncement. It presented an audiovisual piece which pretends to be a conversation among actors representing freedom, news media and representatives of banking and it is said that the Ecuadorean people had tired of the excesses of these sectors because they already had those from the government. Following the airing the television channel Ecuavisa in a public announcement declared that the network stigmatizes several sectors of society and it would out of compliance with the current regulation regarding communication. Joining the protest was Teleamazonas, which felt that the video was “dangerously targeted at polarizing public opinion.” On November 11 in an interview held in the city of Riobamba by local journalists President Correa criticized privately-owned media. He said the government was facing a media and communications “show” on the issue of constitutional amendments and that the opposition sectors would be nothing without media such as El Universo, El Comercio, Hoy, La Hora, Ecuavisa and Teleamazonas. On November 12 Cordicom said that the communication part does not violate the Communication Law and questioned Ecuavisa for placing warning to the public about the content of a television network because that from a privileged position guides the audience and undermines freedom and the people’s right to receive information. Ecuavisa, in turn, responded to Cordicom declaring that it broadcast the audiovisual piece under protest because its content was not a piece of information but a dramatization that sought to stigmatize certain sectors of society. On November 16 the interpretation of what was said to be the intent of a piece of journalistic work has led Supercom to fine the newspaper Extra for the publication of three photographs of the Malaysia Airliens accident. The “incitement to morbidity” was evidenced, Supercom said, by showing the photo of “a woman in a short and flowery dress and high heels.” And the “violence” for showing bodies in the photos. On November 18 the program titled “The Happy Couple” played by actors David Reinoso and Flor María Palomeque went on air at the decision of Teleamazonas after five successful seasons. Reinoso said that the channel has “a great deal of concern and fear” because complaints were being made against the program to Supercom, which in the last quarter of 2014 issued two fines against the series. On November 29 in the people’s hookup number 400 in the segment titled “The Joke of the Week” there was presented a video criticizing Ecuacvisa interviewer Alfredo Pinoargote over the comment “Ten years is the limit” (referring to the presidential mandate limit). After showingthe video Correa also questioned Pinoargote. On November 30 journalist Marco Peerez Torres, host of the opinion program “Alternativa” broadcast by Radio Universal, rejected the temporary suspension of his program due to what he said was a complaint coming from Quito mayor Mauricio Rodas, who alleged “media lynching.” On December 2 television channel Teleamazonas was again fined by Supercom because the program “Jarabe de Pico” had failed to carry out a rectification as required under the Communication Organic Law. The complaint against that program was made by actress Carolina Jaume on September 29, 2014 on the basis that on September 25 in the program there was used information and photographs of her Instagram account in order to make comments which were not corroborated and according to her violated Articles 10 (ethical standards), number 1 (human dignity), sub-clause c (personal privacy) and 23 (right to rectification). On December 4 Supercom ordered the rectification, sized one-quarter page, of the item published by Expreso on October 20, 2014which on the front page said “Pacific Refinery Loses $29.3 million” and which on page 2 mentioned, among other points, that there was understood to be “…a state loss of $29,342,451.” Expreso had already corrected the report at the request of the Pacific Refinery. Now it renewed the demand for the correction “being badly located.” On December 5 Supercom issued a written warning to Radio Canela in Guayaquil for having broadcast pseudo reports as news. Supercom ordered the radio station to “abstain from repeating the commission of act that are at odds with said Law,” as without the due identification of the pseudo reports the listener could be confused “as to if this is real news.” On December 6 in the people’s hookup number 401 President Correa criticized an Expreso editorial headlined “Disaparse en el pie” (Shoot yourself in the foot) in which public policies in the commercial sector are reviewed. Correa said that the paper knew nothing about economy and was confusing it with its ideology. In the same program Correa described El Comercio as “unspeakable” for reports published on the refusal of the National Electoral Council to hand over forms for a public consultation. He said that the paper was lying and contrary to what it said there was jurisprudence in this case. He also questioned the paper over a poll it had carried out on social media to seek another name for the Unasar (Union of South American Nations) building that had been baptized as Néstor Kirchner. On December 13 in the people’s hookup number 402 in the segment titled “Freedom of expression is now everyone’s!” a Bonil cartoon published in El Universo was criticized. It referred to the Unasar building in Mitad del Mundo, Pichincha province. An audiovisual showing the cartoon was presented. The video indicated that for foreign newspapers such as La Nación of Argentina, El Tiempo of Colombia, La Tercera of Chile and El País of Uruguay the inauguration of the Unasar building was prominent while in Ecuador “Unasar is nothing more than a White elephant ...,” says a background voice in the audiovisual, which describes the Bonil cartoon. On December 24 the Pacific Zone 4 Information and Communication Administration based in Portoviejo fined El Mercurio of Manta the equivalent of 10% of its average subscription invoicing in the past three months over an alleged repeat of a violation of Article 23 of the Communication Organic Law regarding the right to rectification. A formal complaint has been made on October 24, 2014 by Ecuadorean citizen José Darwin Macías Bazurto. On December 26 Supercom fined Quito mayor Mauricio Rodas $3,400 as being responsible for acts of “prior censorship” in his role as head of the municipal government. The accusation had been filed by the news Web site Ecuador Inmediato, which said the mayor had broadcast a program titled “The power of speech” the day after taking office. On January 6 Supercom chief Carlos Ochoa announced that the fine would be paid from garnishment imposed by the Government Accounting Office. On January 7 a Provincial Court judge in Loja, 398 miles south of Quito, denied a request for constitutional protection filed by television station Ecotel TV in order to leave without effect final suspension of the granting of frequency ordered by the National Telecommunications Council (Conatel). Following this refusal the station could go off the air at any moment. On January 16 Supercom ruled that TV channel Teleamazonas and actor David Reinoso in the program “Vivos” (The living) in the segment titled “El Malcriadito y Fusilero” (The spoiled brat and rifleman), broadcast on June 15, 2014, contained discriminatory content prohibited under Article 62, chapter 4, of the Communication Organic Law. Superom ordered that within 72 hours of its notification “the director or news editor of the media outlet should broadcast in the same space a public apology to the person concerned and complainant, Mr. Julio César Ayala.” Due to the order the channel took the series off the air, actor David Reinoso confirmed. On January 20 Supercom reprimanded Atalaya radio’s president, Rafael Hinojosa, and the host of the program “Punto de Vista” (Point of View), Rodolfo Baquerizo, in Guayaquil following proceedings initiated by that body which claimed to be offended by comments made against it. On January 21 Supercom fined Radio Zapotillo in Loja – a city located on Ecuador’s southern border – $1,416 for not having delivered copies of the program titled “Primer Plano” (Front Page) hosted by Freddy Aponte broadcast on September 16, 2014. The fine was ordered after a formal complaint made on December 22 by Jackson Torres, administrative director of the Loa Fire Brigade for alleged violation of Article 28 of the Communication Organic Law regarding the obligation of media to provide copies of programs. On January 23 President Correa’s lawyer, Caupolicán Ochoa, warned that he could start new proceedings against Carlos Figueroa, who obtained his release on January 17, 2015, after spending six months in prison on a charge of libeling the president, along with Congressman Cléver Jiménez and his advisor, Fernando Villavicencio. On getting his freedom Figueroa was interviewed by several news media, something questioned by the president’s office. Correa criticized the magazine Vistazo because in his view it now “is an ecologist” and gives space to opposition political leaders who assert that highways were built in Yasuni, which was denied. On January 28 Supercom fined Canal Uno television $1,416, equivalent to four basic wages, for not having delivered copies of its programs on October 27 through 31 and November 1, 2014, from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., following a formal request made by Roque López. That same day a network ordered by the Communication Ministry interrupted for seven minutes the interview and opinion program “Revista Informativa Democrática” (Democratic News Review) broadcast by radio station Exa-Democracia to discredit its host, Gonzalo Rosero, and state that he acts “in bad faith” for having questioned the money spent by the government on community airstrips. Also on the orders of that ministry there was interrupted the newscast “Notihoy” broadcast by radio station Centro FM in order to present by way of response a letter signed by Ecuador’s ambassador in Geneva, María Fernanda Espinosa, as former Defense Minister following an interview held on this station with the former Military Intelligence chief, Colonel Mario Pazmiño, concerning the publication of a book in which is mentioned the exchange of information and coming together of the Ecuadorean Armed Forces with the United States military. On January 30 Supercom fines Radio Súper 110 $3,540 for non-compliance with Article 103 of the Communication Organic Law concerning the dissemination of musical content produced, composed or carried in Ecuador on radio stations that broadcast music. Also fined that day by Supercom was the newspaper La Hora, with the requirement of offering apologies and rectification of an op-ed piece in which there was mention of alleged wrongdoing committed in the administration of Luis Vargas Torres University in the city of Esmeraldas. The request was made by Bernarda Salas, the university’s rector. On January 31 in the people’s hookup number 409 on the occasion of the anniversary of the January 28 murder of Eloy Alfaro it was said that the events of that day were similar to those that occurred in September 2010 ending with the 30S. A video was shown to criticize a press release issued by the Ecuadorean Newspaper Editors and Publishers Association (ADEP) and several news media, among them El Universo, which spoke of the enactment of the Public Service Law, one of the triggers for the 30S. Correa called the media “shameless.” On February 2 Supercom fined the newspaper Últimas Noticias for not responding to the request for rectification requested by journalist Luis Castro regarding a report published in an op-ed column. On February 2 radio station Exa FM received three notices of fine from Supercom. The first, a fine of $3,540 for stating an opinion in a program described as “formative and entertaining,” the second an obligation to make a public apology for alleged discriminatory reports against women, and the third a written warning for having broadcast pseudo reports without identifying them. All the sanctions were started in proceedings conducted concerning broadcast of the entrainment program “La Papaya” on April 21-25 last year. However, this had already gone off the air some months earlier, to be replaced by another. On February 5 Supercom issued a written warning to the newspaper Extra for not having observed the medical ethics set out in Article 10, number 2-a regarding not inciting boys and girls and adolescents to imitate behavior that is harmful or dangerous for their health. On February 7 Supercom fined radio station Onda Cero S.A. for non-compliance with Article 103 of the Communication Organic Law, which refers to dissemination of musical content produced, composed or carried out in Ecuador. It will have to pay a fine of $3,540. That same day Supercom fined Televisión y Radio del Ecuador E.P. (RTV Ecuador) for failing to act on the request for rectification made by TV channel Ecuavisa over an item broadcast on November 28, 2014 on the Quito Solidario channel. On February 12 the possible regulation of social media is a recurring topic in the official discourse. Communication Minister Carlos Ochoa again mentioned the matter, says that before legal reform what was needed was a “great debate throughout the country and only then one think of that possibility. Society should begin to think about it.” According to measurements made by the control body 60% of media – press, radio and television – showed substantial improvement, however it said that if the Communication Law were to be applied fully many media would not be able to work, so it warned of the need for more amendments to the Communication Law. On February 14 in the people’s hookup number 411 President Correa questioned the privately–owned news media that did not mention the study carried out by Vanderbilt University with USAID funding that placed the country among the six best in the region regarding judicial system. In the segment titled “La Cantinflada de Semana” a video was shown on comments by Maurcio Alarcón of Fundamedios and Diego Cornejo of AEDEP. “They think that freedom of expression is only theirs, no sirs, you can have freedom of expression, but the President also has it.” On February 18 federal Communication Minister Fernando Alvarado sent a document to the director genera of Ecuavisa-News, Darío Patiño, responding to an article in which it is said that there is censorship of freedom of expression in social media. In a video Alvarado asks that this document be aired on television. On February 16 and 19 El Comercio, La Hora, Radio Centro and Teleamazonas issued response required by Communication Minister Alvarado to clarify “the disinformation brought ablout by the mercantile pres” for op-ed articles and press reports referring to censorship of freedom of expression in social media. In his note Alvarado complained that social media users “have occupied this space to insult, defame and attack, even hiding in anonymity in order to carry out threats against the integrity and the life of the Head of State” and declared that these “should be constitute a space that allows civilized debate, with ideas and proposals, without incurring in aggressions or threats towards those directly involved and third parties.” On February 21 Supercom identified two “sexist” contents and three “violent” ones in an issue of El Universo last year, which was part of an investigation into compliance with the Communication Organic Law. These were a comic, an advertisement and three international news photos. In the case of El Universo the control body found “possible non-compliances” only on the first date and on certain content which it considered to be “sexist” or “violent.” Two were located in the first category – a cartoon by Olafo and an advertisement of a weight loss center. On February 25 a hookup ordered by the Communication Minister interrupted for several minutes Radio Visión’s program of interviews and opinion hosted by journalist Diego Oquendo for having discredited statements by former Foreign Minister José Ayala Lasso, who criticized the participation of President Correa in a sketch with Dr. Patch Adams, who in turn was mentioned by comedian John Oliver on the American television channel HBO.