The Inter American Press Association has expressed its support for the “remarkable and brave effort” of the Ecuador newspaper La Hora which has abided by its constitutional right to resist in the face of a fine imposed by the state agency in charge of enforcing the communication organic law, more widely known as the gag law.
The Information and Communication Superintendence determined on March 18 that La Hora infringed Article 60 of the law, which classifies types of content. It fined the newspaper the equivalent of five minimum wages because it felt that the paper described a paid announcement by an opposition leader as advertising when, according to Supercom, it should have been classified as an opinion piece. The announcement was paid for by David Rosero, a member of the Citizens Participation Council, which is opposed to the government of President Rafael Correa.
The Ecuadorean communication law requires media to expressly classify all content, whether news, opinion pieces or advertising. The newspaper’s executives said in its defense, backed up by documentation, that the paid-for item, titled “Open letter for the Saturday insults,” published on March 8, was a piece of advertising whose cost was borne by a member of the public, and not an opinion piece of the newspaper.
In addition, they said that the law lacks rules on the definition of contents, and that it does not specify that advertising must be of an exclusively commercial nature.
Inter American Press Association President Gustavo Mohme declared, “We unconditionally support the decision of La Hora to confront and resist an authoritarian and discriminatory decision of the government that is based on a law whose application restricts freedom of the press, imposes censorship and generates self-censorship.”
For his part Claudio Paolillo, chairman of the association’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, added, “We show solidarity with the decision to resist, a notable and brave effort by the editor of La Hora, Francisco Vivanco, who has decided to confront orders that contravene the very constitution of his country and international treaties on matters of freedom of the press and of expression.”
In a letter sent to the Supercom chief, Vivanco, in his role as legal representative of the Editorial Minotauro, company which publishes La Hora, said that the fine was “a penalty that violates our constitutional rights, due process and legal safeguards.” He added that the fine levied by the government’s censorship body headed by President Correa “creates a terrible precedent for the independent media and for members of the public who will not be able to exercise their rights.”
“Any announcement or advertisement carries a message and, given this decision, there is no place in advertising for obituary, sports, political or cultural announcements, because they are not commercial matters,” Vivanco added.
He warned of the enormous danger implied by the precedent set by this fine for the already deteriorating panorama of press freedom in Ecuador. He noted that the Ecuadorean law “provides for news media to assume responsibility for the information and opinions that they disseminate.” Therefore, the law forces the media “to practice prior censorship, which is prohibited by both the law and the constitution, on all opinions of political, social, religious, sports and cultural players, and of the members of the public in general, who wish to exercise their political and constitutional rights and freely express their thoughts and views.”
As a consequence of this situation La Hora embraced the right to resistance contemplated in Article 98 of Ecuador’s constitution. Vivanco added that it would go before “all competent judges in the jurisdictions for an acknowledgement and reparation of the violated rights.”
Mohme, editor of the Lima, Peru, newspaper La República, and Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, jointly declared that “it is important that we, as journalists and news media in the Americas, express solidarity in the face of the government’s attack on press freedom in Ecuador.”