Ecuador | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Ecuador

Ecuador

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

41

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

17

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

10

While violence against the media decreased in 2007, President Rafael Correa, who took office in January, set a hostile tone toward the press, frequently criticizing the media and initiating a criminal defamation lawsuit against the Quito-based daily La Hora. 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, limiting reporting on public officials and the armed forces. In March, journalist Nelson Fueltala of the daily La Gaceta received a two-month prison sentence for defamation of the mayor of Pujili, though the case remained on appeal at year’s end. On May 10, President Correa filed a libel lawsuit against La Hora chairman Francisco Vivanco for an editorial accusing the president of intending to govern the country with “tumult, sticks, and stones.” Alternatively, former government adviser Quinto Pazmino, a Constituent Assembly candidate, accused President Correa of libel and filed a US$10 million lawsuit against him. The authorities then arrested Pazmino for insulting the president. However, the Supreme Court ruled in September that Pazmino’s status as a political candidate granted him special privileges, and he was released after paying a fine. In a separate ruling in July, the administration banned the unauthorized dissemination of clandestinely recorded videos. It was not yet clear at year’s end how press issues would be addressed in the drafting of the new constitution; however, during a September radio address, the president called for stronger laws to regulate the media.

Ecuadorian journalists were subjected to frequent rhetorical lacerations from the president, though the level of physical attacks was low compared with the regional average. Correa used an array of colorful descriptors, calling the press “savage beasts,” mediocre, corrupt, mafiosi, and “more unpleasant than pancreatic cancer.” According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Congress passed a resolution demanding that Correa respect freedom of expression and exercise tolerance for divergent opinions following one of the president’s particularly volatile and disrespectful weekly radio addresses in May. In July, the president announced that he would no longer give interviews or press conferences and would communicate with the media only in writing.

Most broadcast and print media outlets are privately owned. The government owns and operates one radio station; the El Telegrafo newspaper, which fell into state hands in May following a multiyear legal dispute; and the new Canal Ecuador TV, which premiered in November and is funded by a US$5 million grant from the Venezuelan government. Media outlets express a broad range of editorial viewpoints, many of which are critical of the government. However, most media outlets are heavily influenced by their financiers and often reflect the political perspectives of their sponsors, a situation that contributed strongly to Correa’s frequent accusations of bias in the media. As part of his proposed reforms, Correa has called for the redrawing of media ownership rules to encourage “healthy competition.” Access to the internet is not restricted by the government, but the medium is used by only 11 percent of the population.