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PRESIDENT CUTS MEDIA ACCESS; INSULT LAWS COULD JAIL JOURNALISTS

After a series of missteps with Ecuadorean media, President Rafael Correa has announced he will no longer give news conferences, according to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF). Meanwhile he continues to invoke an insult law in suing a newspaper editor over a critical editorial.

Describing certain media as "mediocre, corrupt and mendacious," Correa acknowledged on 10 June 2007 that he had "made mistakes" in clashing with the press. But two weeks later, he called for "strong laws" to be imposed in the communications field. "In Latin America's history, the press has always been against progressive governments," he said.

After insulting reporters, Correa announced he would now respond to the news media only "in writing." In this, RSF reports that he follows Néstor Kirchner of Argentina, who has not given a news conference since becoming president in 2003.

While acknowledging "undeniable" aggression by some news media towards him, RSF deplores Correa's verbal attacks. It urged him to reconsider holding news conferences, saying "an empty-chair policy is the worst of all solutions."

Press freedom groups are also concerned about the use of "insult laws" which could jail journalists in Ecuador. RSF and the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) report that Correa filed a "public insult" complaint against Francisco Vivanco Riofrío, editor of the daily "La Hora". Article 230 of the Penal Code makes insulting the president of Ecuador a criminal offence punishable by six months' to two years' imprisonment and a fine.

In May, IAPA called for the repeal of insult laws in the region, arguing against "preferential treatment of public officials." It said contempt as a criminal offence has been removed from the penal codes of Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, and partially repealed in Chile. In Latin America, only Venezuela has recently strengthened its insult law.

IAPA is also concerned about media ownership issues in Ecuador, where a legal battle is being waged between private and official shareholders of Ecuador's oldest newspaper, "El Telégrafo". Editor Carlos Navarette Castillo, a descendant of the 123-year-old newspaper's founders, complained that government regulators are attempting to strip private shareholders of their majority ownership position.

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=22798
- IAPA: http://tinyurl.com/29wx5a
- IAPA on the ownership dispute: http://tinyurl.com/292r99
(10 July 2007)

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