Press group criticizes Correa on ad decision

The Inter American Press Association has described as “contrary to the principles of freedom of expression and press freedom” an order by the government of Ecuador to withdraw official advertising from independent news media. The hemisphere organization also voiced concern at the raid on and embargo of assets of the magazine Vanguardia and threats to shut down the organization Fundamedios.

President Rafael Correa announced Saturday that he was ordering his officials to suspend placement of official advertising in several privately-owned media in reprisal for their critical stance towards the government. The order affects such independent media, among them the newspapers Hoy, El Comercio, El Universo and La Hora and television channels Ecuavisa and Teleamazonas.

In June this year the Inter American Press Association and other international and national press organizations criticized Correa for having ordered ministers and officials to not grant interviews to news media outlets.

“We in the IAPA believe that discrimination in the placement of official advertising to benefit some media and punish others is a capricious use of public funds and it is against the Declaration of Chapultepec and the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission,” declared Milton Coleman, president of the Inter American Press Association and senior editor of The Washington Post.

Coleman added that what “we do maintain, and is in line with court rulings in other countries and with international standards, is that the government should have technical and transparent criteria, and that the mission of that advertising is to add to the knowledge of the citizens in matters of public interest.” Under this concept, he said, in Ecuador “the independent and privately-owned media provide great coverage and penetration and it cannot be denied that they are excellent vehicles of information for the people.”

In another action, officials of the ministry of labor relations raided the Quito headquarters of the magazine Vanguardia and impounded computers, furniture and other assets. The raid was justified as being a response to non-compliance with an administrative sanction regarding the magazine’s failure to heed the requirement that it employ a certain number of handicapped persons on its staff. However, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Iván Flores Poveda, argued that the company has submitted legal evidence to the contrary.

In December 2010 Vanguardia suffered another raid, it being alleged that it owed rent for its offices. On that occasion the offices were searched and several of the journalists’ computers were seized.

Coleman in addition said that the Inter American Press Association has been following the case of the government accusations and threats to shut down the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios), and against its director, César Ricaurte. Fundamedios, a not-for-profit organization devoted to monitoring press freedom in the South American country, has been accused by the government of carrying out destabilizing activities there.

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