Report to the 72nd General Assembly

Mexico City, Mexico

October 13 – 17, 2016


Censorship and persecution of news media, especially digital ones, increased notably in these six months.

Portals such as FocusEcuador, Mil Hojas, Plan V and 4Pelagatos were the recipients of Internet attacks. Social media also received complaints claiming copyright on the part of the National Communication Secretariat, managing to temporarily suspend Twitter accounts.

At the same time as there were disseminated photos, addresses and home telephone numbers through social media threats were made against the journalists of the digital portal 4Pelagatos, Roberto Aguilar, Martín Pallares, José Hernández and Gabriel González. The threats were made after the publication of an article headlined "Correa puts his daughter up front," which brings the President into question for using the government newspaper El Telégrafo to disseminate a series of articles by his 18-year-old daughter.

People do not escape the official radar. Several Twitter user accounts were denounced by the National Communication Secretariat (Secom) for the "illegitimate" use of images and extracts of the Saturday presidential addresses, known as "Citizen Link-Up." An example are the accounts of journalist Bernardo Abad (@babadmerchan), article writer and political scientist Gabriel Hidalgo (@ghidaldoandrade), lawyer and LGBT people's rights activist Silvia Buendia (@silvitabuendia) and Tweeter critic Carlos Acosta (@caacosta 1962).

The social media, motivated by complaints, temporarily blocked the account of journalist Estefania Celi (@3stef) and of Rafael Martínez (@RaficoMartinez) for having commented on the official candidates.

Another of the recourses used from the position of power are the national chains camouflaged as responses. In these spaces journalists, politicians and news media are insulted, harassed and hounded. Programs such as "Direct Contact" on Ecuavisa, "Breakfasts 24" on Teleamazonas, "Exa Democracy" are maligned by these contents. Janeth Hinostroza, Gonzalo Rosero, Alfredo Pinoargote and Diego Oquendo are the journalists most criticized by the regime.

On June 19 the investigative program "Visión 360" on Ecuavisa aired under protest a 13-minute institutional video of the state oil company Petroamazonas that was imposed as a response. One month later a media outlet published under protest a video sent by several authorities of the Amazon province Sucumbios in response to a report titled "Fear on the Frontier."

And for the third time against the program "Visión 360" the government, through the National Communication Secretariat, ordered a broadcast in the same time slot, thus requiring the news program be aired at another time. The news item that made them uncomfortable was "Lights, Camera, Squandering?" on the nine years of audiovisual propaganda carried out by the government and never exhibited.

In the Saturday hookups of President Correa and Vice President Glas there continue to be harsh criticisms and a disparaging of independent news media and their employees. Correa claimed that El Universo, El Comercio, La Hora, Expreso, Ecuavisa and Teleamazonas serve as a "sounding box" for the leader of the CREO movement, Guillermo Lasso (a presidential candidate). He said that the media want to "return to power" strengthening the politician's campaign. The government uses state media as a weapon to attack.

In the newspaper El Telégrafo there were published several notes about an interview that Ecuavisa journalist Alfredo Pinoargote had with Chilean international analyst Patricio Mery Bell. The paper said that several social collectives presented a letter demanding that Pinoargote apologize for alleged comments "in favor" of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship. The pressure was such through the social media that the presenter had to clarify his position in the program.

The Information and Communication Superintendency, Supercom, and the Communication Council, Cordicom, are the governmental bodies from which news media are watched, punished and reprimanded. The actions of these control bodies are translated into 60 pecuniary fines, 9 rectifications, 19 obligatory responses, 10 required apologies, 27 written reprimands, 5 calls to attention, and radio and television channel frequency reversion proceedings ordered by Secom.

The most affected segment by these 125 disciplinary measures was radio (52), followed by the press (47), television (21), journalists (4) and public officials (1).

Radio stations such as Sentimientos, Alfa Musical, Canal Juvenil, Futura and Exa Fm were punished with a fine of the equivalent of a basic salary for not identifying and classifying the contents of their programs. Media such as Radio Alfa and Radio Bonita were reprimanded by Supercom for not broadcasting 35% of their content as music produced, composed or performed in the country. The fines were of amounts equivalent to 10 basic salaries.

Among sanctions applied to written media of note was that imposed on the newspaper El Universo. It published under protest four replies and rectifications ordered on June 17 and 18 by state officials. All these arrived at the newsroom drawn up and titled. The newspaper assured, in each of the imposed notes, that it found itself obliged to publish them so as to avoid new fines by the Information and Communication Superintendency which would endanger the paper's finances.

These requests were made by public officials Pedro Merizalde, general manager of Petroecuador, and Paola Hidalgo, assistant general development manager of the internal revenue service.

Neither did the newspaper's executives escape governmental criticisms, especially those by President Rafael Correa. During the Citizen Hookup No. 491 he said, "Ask the owners of El Universo when you see Pérez, Hernán Pérez Loose, and all those chickens of El Universo, make a "yuca" (obscene gesture), insult them, tell them you don't have to applaud them, one has to be tolerant, let us see what happens, enough of hypocrisy." This in regard to the note "At least 16 cases of offenses" in nine years against Rafael Correa on the altercations that Correa has had with the people.

In addition to these sanctions the Agency for the Regulation and Control of Telecommunications (Arcotel) decided to end the license contract of radio station Ecos de Pueblo in Cotopaxi province. The reason was understood to be non-compliance with what is established in the third transitory disposition of the Organic Communication Law regarding the obligation of the licensee to present a sworn declaration to the telecommunications authority with 30 days of the publication of the Law.

In these six months there have occurred several events that we must highlight.

On April 16 Ecuador suffered an earthquake of 7.8 degrees on the Richter scale. In the following days Ecuadoreans, thanks to the work of the press, learned through television channels, newspapers, radio stations how to help their brothers and sisters. But the state regulation is such that the Cuenca newspaper El Mercurio was punished on May 13 with a written reprimand from the Zone 6 Information and Communication Office for considering that the paper was responsible for publishing a headline that did not correspond to reality. The note, headlined "People ask for water: Correa raises the value added tax," a reference to what had occurred after the earthquake, appeared on the front page of the April 21 edition and was the subject of complaints by members of the public Alexandra Toledo, Omar Zárate, Marcelo Gómez and Diego Lucero, after several ministers on social media criticized the paper for such publication.

After this Superintendent Carlos Ochoa justified the sanction against El Mercurio and denied that there existed a "plot" to accumulate sanctions against that media outlet. In that regard he assured that it was a denunciation by citizens and not an official one.

Increasingly it is difficult to do investigative journalism, an example of this was what happened on August 8. After President Correa suggested, on hookup number 487 of August 6, that Teleamazonas and journalist Janet Hinostroza should be punished for media lynching, Supercom issued a double sanction two days later. The reason was to question an inverse corporate tendering of medicines that the National Public Contracting Service held.

This is a written reprimand of Teleamazonas for media lynching and the journalist that hosts a morning interview and opinion program the Supercom sanctioned for "non-compliance" with the medical ethics established in Article 10, number 3, parts a and b of the Organic Communication Law.

On June 10 Canal Uno television journalist Xavier Bustamante Ruiz was the victim of acts of intimidation by alleged workers of the Ecuador Transit Commission (CTE) following the publication of two reports that showed videos of the "unusual" behavior of two agents. The acts of intimidation consisted of the publication, on Facebook, of the photos, telephone number and address of the journalist's home in Guayaquil.

Fundamedios and the Lawyers Society of Pichincha filed a criminal charge against Communication Superintendent Carlos Ochoa for altering a provision of the Communication Law, an action that only the National Assembly is competent to do. This amendment occurred when the official ordered the printing of the regulations in 300,000 pocket editions. The change that the Supercom made is located in the second paragraph of the sixth article of the Law. This refers to progressive implementation of the broadcasting of music of national production.

The sanction for non-compliance with Article 103 is payment of the equivalent to 10 basic salaries. At least 22 radio stations have been sanctioned on the basis of this article since 2014. However, since January 2016 11 media have been fined regarding this. The fines are understood to amount to more than $40,000.

On August 30 police pushed out reporters covering the eviction of members of the National Teachers Union (UNE) in Quito. At least two reporters and a cameraman were the victims of physical aggressions on the part of uniformed officers of the Special Operations Group (GOE). The strongest attack was against Xavier Andocilla, a journalist with the portal EcuadorLibreRed.

The attacks upon Ecuadorean news media and journalists also are taking place from abroad. The Telesur chain complained of the link of retired members of the military, politicians and journalists of Ecuador with alleged plans of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to destabilize the government of President Rafael Correa.

According to Telesur the Ecuadoreans at the service of the CIA were understood to be journalist Emilio Palacio, exiled in the United States, César Ricaurte, director of Fundamedios, an organization that continually denounces violations of freedom of expression, labor union member Fernando Villacencio and activist Karen Hollihgan.

In April, following the publication of documents of the Panamanian company Mossak Fonseca by the Investigative Reporters Consortium (ICIJ), President Correa, through his social media accounts, exposed the names, media and Twitter accounts of each one of the six journalists who, from Ecuador, took part in the investigation. The president also encouraged his supporters to send messages to the journalists. "To ask them for the whole truth," he said.

In several Citizen Hookups the head of state stated that in such investigation there has been hidden information about the news media owners and businessmen critical of his government that were understood to have offshore businesses in tax havens.

From the government it was said that $30 billion of Ecuador were understood to be in tax havens, of which 280 people would be owners, as stated by Senator Fausto Cayambe. He cited the example of Jaime Mantilla, the owner of the now defunct Quito newspaper Hoy and former IAPA president, claiming that he had investments in six companies in Panama, where he had sent funds of the Hoy newspaper publishing company to be detrimental to the former employees of the company which was liquidated at the order of the superintendency of companies more than two years ago.

Because of an angry complaint by Mantilla several media reproduced his reply which dared officials to prove what they affirmed. The officials, covered by their parliamentary immunity, kept totally silent without proving their accusation.

One of the important denunciations was that Ecuador's Attorney General, Galo Chiriboga, owns a company in Panama Papers that is not mentioned in his declaration of assets. He remains in his job.