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GOVERNMENT SEIZES TV STATIONS

IFEX members are alarmed that the government's seizure of two television stations and the closure of a critical radio station in Ecuador last week may be a move to silence private broadcasters ahead of a constitutional referendum.

Members of Ecuador's Deposit Guarantee Agency (AGD), backed by dozens of police officers, seized the private television stations Gamavisión and TC Televisión on 8 July because of alleged ties to Grupo Isaías, a financial group accused of embezzlement in the late 1990s, report the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and other IFEX members. They suspended news reporting of the seizure and replaced it with a comedy show, and halted normal news programming at the stations altogether.

Meanwhile, President Rafael Correa replaced the vice president of news and the manager for both TV stations with José Toledo, a journalist and former official close to Correa. Economy Minister Fausto Ortiz resigned in opposition to the government's decision.

"It is obvious that the new director will have a different editorial view and he will not be at all independent of the government's position," says IAPA.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the management of the two TV stations called the seizures "a violation of free expression." The current owners of the stations say they have no business connections to the two men charged in the embezzlement case.

IAPA has been calling attention to Latin American governments such as Ecuador's that have set up news media outlets using public funds to act as agents of political propaganda.

Following ADG's confiscation of the Guayaquil newspaper "El Telégrafo" last year after its major shareholder was jailed on fraud charges, the government promised that the paper would be sold off at auction. The paper is now being used as an "official gazette," says IAPA.

The IFEX members say the government action may be intended to undermine the independence of news media as Correa seeks to boost support for a constitutional referendum later this year. The proposed constitution would relax presidential term limits, increase the economy minister's political powers, and give the government more control over oil production.

The situation is complicated by the closure on 7 July of Radio Sucre, a critical radio station based out of Guayaquil, says CPJ. Representatives of the National Council of Telecommunications (Conatel), accompanied by police, seized equipment and sealed Radio Sucre's offices, impeding the station's ability to continue broadcasting. Conatel said the station was using a frequency it had not been allotted.

Visit these links:
- IAPA: http://tinyurl.com/5zmjoq
- Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) (Spanish): http://www.ipys.org/alertas/atentado.php?id=1529
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/5wu2cy
- RSF: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95218/
(16 July 2008)

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