One issue that is being faced by two sectors of society is the right to freedom of expression – on the one hand those advocating and defending free speech and on the other government authorities that with a constant campaign seek to silence and discredit not only independent news media but anyone who states an opinion or they believe makes opposition, including on social media. There has been an increase in intolerance from those in power of social protest to the point of criminalizing it.
The Saturday broadcasts of President Rafael Correa have become a television space to harshly criticize the media. It is routine to hear the head of state use such terms as "troublemaking," "cheap," "rags," "perverse," "bitter," "unspeakable," etc. so as to pull to pieces journalists, media, non-governmental organizations and politicians. There have been created segments such as "Freedom of expression now is everyone's," "Let's learn from history" "Out of respect for logic," "The empty chatter of the week" to criticize media and members of the press.
International bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter American Press Association are also the targets of the presidential criticisms for acting upon requests by social groups.
The publicly-owned media are also a means to attack used by the government. In the "Unmasking" segment of the news program of the government channel EcuadorTV Martín Pallares is accused of being "the anti-government political player," saying that the journalist traveled to the United States to seek funding from extreme rightwing organizations, for which the organization Fundamedios served him as the connection. On that channel there was quoted information of "a blog" (tripamishqui.com) in whose content there were details of private meetings and conversations which could only have been obtained through monitoring or wiretapping of e-mails or other communications.
The state-owned newspaper El Telégrafo published an alleged commercial relationship between the radio group Visión, of journalist Diego Oquendo Silva, and the cultural area of the Quito Municipality and the priority that the city council has for this media outlet. Published were the contract subscriptions amounting to $96,464.29. The agreements concern the publication of advertising and the production of the City of Letters project.
The control by the Information and Communications Superintendent's Office (Supercom) and the Communication Council (Cordicom), created under the Communication Organic Law (LOC) amounts to 33 fines, two rectifications, six obligatory responses, one obligatory apology, 11 written reprimands, and reversion of radio frequencies and television and radio networks ordered by the National Communication Secretariat (Secom).
Of the 78 disciplinary actions taken in these seven months the majority of them were against radio news media (35), television (24), press (18) and organizations (1).
Media such as Radio Disney, Radio Exa FM, Radio La Premier, Radio Genial and Radio Encuentro have been fined $3,540 plus interest and legal costs for not airing at least 35% of national music in their habitual programming so far in 2016. Media such as Radio Cuenca La Voz de los 4 Ríos, Radio Festival and Canal Uno TV were reprimanded by Supercom for not handing over within the required three days a copy of their programming, the fines were of amounts equivalent to between one and five basic salaries.
On March 22, 2016 Radio Canela was fined the equivalent of 10% of the average invoicing of the last three months for "discriminatory" comments made by announcers Marcos Vera "El Padrino" and Henry Flores in the program "The Members' Show" against Chinese citizens. Supercom fined the radio station for reoffending, given that on November 23, 2015 Radio Canela had already been given a first fine for broadcasting content discriminating against the LGBT community, thus repeating an offense in less than 12 months.
Concerning fines on print media of note was that on Gestión magazine, with the obligation to seek public apologies by the companies, entities and people who paid for advertising and propaganda, for failing to comply with Article 90 of the Communication Law concerning the dissemination of the print run on there being proved error in the circulation figures. Supercom ruled that the magazine did not provide any documentation that proves the 6,999 circulation of issues nos. 255 and 256, so the magazine had to publish on its Web site for seven consecutive days counting from the notification of the resolution and on the front page of the following print issue recognition that the print run figures did not correspond to reality. Gestión is a magazine that circulates through various channels, a large percentage free of charge as a courtesy.
In addition to all these controls the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (Arcotel) decided to unilaterally end the contract of concession of frequency of Radio Zapotilli 96.1 FM in Loja after 15 years on the air. Arcotel based its decision on an alleged failure to comply with the Third Requirement of the Communication Organic Law (LOC) in not having presented by its owner, Víctor Manuel Montero Diáz, a sworn declaration within the 30 days required by the law.
In addition, in October 2015 Radio Tarqui ceased operating because the LOC set several parameters for the delivery and renewal of frequencies, among them the acquisition of equipment and programming, and the radio does not have sufficient capital to be able to acquire them, the radio's manager, Hernán Herdoíza, declared.
Arcotal also decided to shelve the process of reversal of the frequency of radio station Democracia 920 AM that it had initiated in December for its allegedly having obtained the renewal of its frequency through a "non-competent authority."
In September Arcotel had decided on the process of reversal of more than 300 radio and television frequencies at the national level. The reason: having obtained the renewal of its frequency by a "non-competent authority," as is stated in the Communication Organic Law.
In September Secom denied Fundamedios the constitutional right of association to defend freedom of expression in not yielding to an amendment of the statute whose key objective is the defense of this fundamental human right. The argument given by Secom, a body that has been regulating Fundamedios since the beginning of 2014, is that "it is not applicable that a not-for-profit organization intends to give itself powers legally attributed to the public administration." Several days later, thanks to the intervention of Ombudsman Ramiro Rivadeneira, Secom took a step back and ruled the non-dissolution of the organization.
On October 28 the newspaper El Universo devoted part of its front page and an inside half page to publishing a reply imposed by Secom over the publication of a note of the Inter American Press Association's General Assembly on October 7. This occurred one day after Secom required the newspaper La Hora to publish a reply over a similar note, in which questions were raised about the Communication Organic Law.
In November the Correa government faced several social protests about current issues affecting the country. A number of people were detained for demonstrating in the streets, also reporters, photographers and cameramen, such as the case of Andrés Mendoza, a journalist with the Agencia Popular de Comunicación Ser Públicos news agency.
In November the company El Tiempo Cia. Ltda., which publishes the newspaper El Tiempo in Cuenca, sold 49% of its shares to the company El Telégrafo EP, which prints the state-owned newspaper El Telégrafo, thus reducing the amount of independent media.
The Twitter account of journalist María Fernanda Egas, an op-ed writer of the online media LaRepublica.ec, continues to be under suspension. The only argument that Twitter gave her was that she was said to have violated the rules in publishing private information. This social network also blocked the account of Stephen Kuffner, correspondent in Ecuador of The Economist, after having published a photo of people sleeping at a meeting of the National Assembly, considering that this was private and confidential information. The account was later restored.
Political leader and tweeter Sebastián Cevallos was sentenced to 15 days in prison after publishing on his account the presence of several family members of then Labor Minister Carlos Marx Carrasco at public events. Also, Loja city counselor Jeannine Cruz Vaca was sentenced to 30 days in prison for publishing a message on her Twitter account and a video on YouTube questioning the emergency decreed by the Loja Burgomaster concerning the Loja Drinking Water Master Plan.
On December 16, 2015 National Police agents and officials of the telecommunications regulating agency broke violently into the installations of the Loja television channel, with the aim of silencing its broadcasts. They proceeded to take away from the channel's studios the broadcast equipment and a number of tools vital for staying on air.
In January the organization Fundamedios warned about amendment of the Telecommunications Law to include control of Internet users in Ecuador.
On December 28 President Correa issued through executive decree No. 864 the General Rules on the Telecommunications Organic Law (LOT), which should govern the application of this Law, in effect since February 2015.
On February 17, 2016 the National Front of Students and Scholarship Recipients went to the offices of the newspaper El Universal in Guayaquil to request its right of reply concerning a news item headlined Politicization of Scholarships Is Feared In The Face Of The Activation of The Student Front. This came after President Correa asked those belonging to the organization "not to allow all lies by the press."
Cordicom held that the cartoon of Xavier Bonilla, known as Bonil, published on December 28 in El Universo is not discriminatory. This was published after the National Assembly passed the Organic Law on Identify and Civil Data Management, which allows citizens to substitute the word "sex" with "gender" after the age of majority in the identity card.
The intolerance of criticism from those in power has reached such a point that President Correa accused the press of inciting that he be shot over information published about the tragedy of the military aircraft and the Solca debt. The President accused El Comercio of lying and being "immoral" for having questioned the government for not having replaced Air Force planes since 1975 and declared that the aim was to politicize news. After this he insinuated that the press incites for him to be murdered," "Correa is to blame, while the coward Correa travels in a new plane, orders his soldiers to fly in junk, then the accident is Correa's fault ... Seeing this, the family member of a soldier if he or she sees me in the street shoots me."
Social media do not escape the finger-pointing of the Executive Branch. President Correa announced, in his broadcast 468, that he will battle social media, particularly Twitter, against what he considered to be "lies of the sufferers." "Dear tweeters, soon we will meet, the battle is also in the networks, and it is a battle that we have to win and we are going to win, buddies, because we are honest ones we are more, we are always going to clear up all the lies, but careful, they stun us with a more credible lie," he declared.
The portal 4Pelagatos.com was threatened with being shut down for allegedly using nearly 43 images of President Correa and his officials. This complaint was made by the National Communication Secretariat (Secom) because it was said to be infringing copyright law. Said images include photo compositions, many of them taken from the Ecuadoran Presidency's digital archive. The portal is an initiative to promote public debate by journalists José Hernández, Roberto Aguilar and Martín Pallares, plus the organization Crudo Ecuador. It reported that it would continue publishing the images because its role is to engage in public politics.
Alfredo Pinoargote, Diego Oquendo, Alfonso Espinoza de los Monteros, Gonzalo Rosero, Ramiro Cueva Atarihuana, María Josefa Coronel, Janeth Hinisroza, Tania Tinoco, Roberto Aguilar, cartoonists Xavier Bonilla (Bonil) ad Ponto Moreno Luján head the list of journalists criticized by the regime.