Press group decries situation in Ecuador

The Inter American Press Association Monday deplored the authoritarianism of the Ecuador government, linking it directly to a continuing deterioration in press freedom in the South American country, new evidence of which is the shutdown of the daily print edition of the Quito newspaper Hoy.

At the same time the Inter American Press Association rejected as a clear interventionist stance of President Rafael Correa’s government a bill for a constitutional amendment that seeks to transfer from the organic communication law to the constitution that information be regarded as a public service rather than a right of the people, thus contravening international treaties and documents on freedom of expression.

In its editorial Sunday Hoy, managed by Jaime Mantilla, announced its last daily print edition in order to go ahead with journalistic activities on a digital basis, explaining to its readers that “the communication law’s restrictive regulations and the deepening of some of its rules, limit in a discriminatory manner Ecuadorean investment in news media, (despite the fact that through an ad hoc regulation foreign investment is permitted in them), the permanent boycott of advertising in Hoy, the cancellation of contracts for printing, especially of school texts, and other restrictions on funding our operations, including the initiative to make information a public service, in a global scenario of progressive deterioration in audiences of the print media, oblige us to take the hard decision of suspending the daily print edition of Hoy.”

Elizabeth Ballantine, press association president, declared, “We cannot fail to point out that we have been warning against this law which is dangerous and interventionist regarding press freedom, and intruding in the content of independent and privately-owned media,” cautioning that this was the reason it was widely fought in the country for several years prior to its effect in June 2013.

Ms. Ballantine, director of the Durango Herald, Durango, Colorado, added that the attacks and official indirect intervention regarding independent media demonstrates the deterioration not only in press freedom but also in democratic institutions.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the press association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, said, “Along with other governments, Rafael Correa’s will go down in history as one of those mainly responsible for that deterioration, both for attacking independent media and for using publicly owned media as its own to attempt and take away the public’s right to seek and disseminate information, as if this were a prerogative of the government.”

“This is no different than what other Fascist governments have done throughout history”, added Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda.

The association officers explained that the controversial public service clause that is sought to be included in the Constitution devolves from what is already established in the organic communication law and which was, among others, one of those on which congressional debate was held up for four years. With this clause the government is seeking to have a new excuse to regulate news media content.

Hoy, a newspaper founded 32 years ago, said that from today onwards it is disseminating its message in its edition on the Internet, HoyDigital, “with the same philosophy of independence, plurality and the other values that inspired its birth.” Hoy will continue to publish a print version but on a weekly rather than daily basis.

In the editorial, Mantilla declared that the digital tool “will also enable Hoy to develop … a journalism without the restrictions imposed by the communication law on print and audiovisual media …, it will be able to regain use of the capacities to investigate and freely analyze – which are the basis of an honest journalism in a democracy.”

An earlier report on the state of press freedom in Ecuador highlighted the fact that in the South American country “there continues to be constant attacks by the government on journalists, media, opposition politicians and some citizens that criticize it.”

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