Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The constitution guarantees freedom of the press. However, given that defamation and slander remain criminal offenses punishable by up to three years in prison, these guarantees are often weak in practice. Concern about the implementation of such restrictive libel laws often results in self-censorship, affecting reporting on public officials and the armed forces. In a positive legal development, President Alfredo Palacio approved steps to begin implementing the new Freedom of Information Act that had been passed in 2004. Congress passed an amendment to the criminal code in November that stipulated jail sentences of up to nine years for journalists who broadcast or publish the contents of telephone conversations without permission of the participants. However, in a move that was hailed by press organizations, Palacio vetoed the legislation in December.
Ecuadorian journalists were subject to government harassment and other types of extralegal intimidation in 2005. In the face of mass street protests against the government in Quito, then President Lucio Gutierrez declared a state of emergency in April whose provisions allowed for the suspension of the rights to freedom of expression, association, and movement. The measures were rescinded a few days later, after which Congress elected to oust Gutierrez and replace him with the vice president, Alfredo Palacio. Nonetheless, protests continued during which supporters of the deposed president attacked journalists. Numerous television crews and reporters were harassed in order to obtain pro-Gutierrez media coverage or to punish those who criticized the former president. In one instance, reporters from the television stations Gamavision and Ecuavisa were abducted and released only after they agreed to broadcast their support for Gutierrez. To quell the demonstrations, police used tear gas on crowds, inadvertently killing Julio Garcia Romero, a freelance photojournalist, who subsequently died of a heart attack from the effects of the gas.
Prior to the ousting of Gutierrez, relations between the government and media had been particularly strained, especially for journalists critical of the administration. Numerous print media outlets and radio stations known for criticizing the Gutierrez administration were reported to have received death threats. In addition, a radio station in Macas with a reputation for accusing the government of corruption was the victim of a bomb attack and the subsequent blackout of its transmissions by the authorities. Under President Palacio, a second state of emergency was declared in the northern provinces of Orrellana and Sucumbios in August, during which time the government censored 10 separate radio stations in the region. The majority of these stations were supportive of a local civic strike protesting government policies and the transnational petroleum companies operating in the area.
Except for one government-owned radio station, broadcast and print media outlets are privately owned and express a broad range of editorial viewpoints. Most media outlets are heavily influenced by their financiers and often reflect the political perspectives of their sponsors. The broadcast media are required to give the government free airtime; thus stations can be forced to show programs featuring the president and other officials. Access to the internet is not restricted by the government but is only used by 5.2 percent of the population.