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Monday 22 September 2014

Ecuador agrees to new media curbs

Published 15/06/2013 | 07:02

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Controversial new controls on the media have been passed by the Ecuadorian congress

A controversial new media law imposing sanctions for smearing "people's good name" and limiting private owners to one third of radio and TV licences has been passed by Ecuador's congress.

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The measures are championed by president Rafael Correa, but the country's privately owned media, which is largely in opposition hands, joined press freedom groups in calling the bill an authoritarian measure to control dissent.

It passed by a 108-26 margin in the Correa-controlled congress.

Its sponsor, politician Mauro Andino, said the proposal would protect freedom of speech, but "with a focus on everybody's rights, not just for a group of the privileged".

Carlos Lauria, Americas director of the New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists, said the legislation "could severely limited freedom of expression" by giving the government ample discretion to sanction dissenters and thus "opens the door to government censorship of the press".

He said it "establishes finally one of the key objectives of Correa's rule, which is to silence critics of his government".

Diego Cornejo, director of the Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Editors, said the bill creates "a kind of information totalitarianism," reflecting a state that "wants to impose only one viewpoint about reality".

Among provisions in the bill's 119 articles is the prohibition of the "media lynching," defined as having the effect of damaging a person or institution's prestige or public credibility without sufficient foundation.

The bill, which Mr Correa is expected to sign into law, creates a series of government commissions empowered to exact civil and criminal sanctions against journalists who its members deem to violate the standards set by the law.

It also specifies that Ecuador's broadcasting spectrum be redistributed so that state-run media control 33% of frequencies while community and other grassroots radio stations control 34%, leaving the rest to private media. The measures are similar to ones enacted in Venezuela under the late President Hugo Chavez, a Correa ally.

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