Ecuador’s war on the media
Since taking office in 2007, Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa has been in a war of words with the media in his country. He’s used archaic libel laws to pursue criminal charges against the owners of El Universo and a columnist at the newspaper. His government has pushed through a law that severely restricts the media’s ability to cover political campaigns and elections; indeed, it goes so far as to ban any media reports that can benefit or hurt a candidate. And now he’s set his sights on international media observers.
Last month, Correa’s government asked the Organization of American States to consider a plan that would strip its special rapporteur for freedom of expression of her ability to do her job. The rapporteur’s office has been critical of Ecuador’s assault on the media. Correa’s plan could, if adopted, prevent publication of an OAS report on the status of free expression in every country in the Americas, a report that has been put out annually for more than a decade by the Office of the Special Rapporteur and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The plan would also require the OAS to create a code of conduct that essentially would expand state control over the work of its special rapporteurs.
The OAS, which meets this week, should reject these recommendations. The last thing Ecuador needs is international help in subverting freedom of expression. Correa, a populist who has never shown much regard for the media, is doing a pretty good job of that all on his own. Not only has he expanded state ownership of media outlets from one to more than a dozen, but he has also hauled journalists into court at an alarming rate.
Just last month, the editor of the Ecuador newspaper Hoy was sentenced to three months in jail because he refused to turn over the names of the journalists who wrote unsigned articles on alleged corruption by a central bank official. That official happens to be the president’s second cousin. And two other journalists were sued in connection with their book alleging that Correa’s brother received government contracts.
Correa should address his government’s poor record on freedom of expression instead of engaging in an international campaign against his critics.
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