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Supporters of Yes option in referendum for a new constitution assault camera operator; ministerial resolution could lead to restrictions on journalistic work

(IPYS/IFEX) - On 12 September 2008, Eduardo Molina, a camera operator for the Red Telesistema (RTS) television network, was assaulted by demonstrators who were waiting for the arrival of President Rafael Correa at the Hilton Colón hotel, in the city of Guayaquil.

The incident took place when the photographer was covering a confrontation between the supporters of the Yes and No options in an upcoming referendum to approve a new constitution. A Yes option supporter assaulted the camera operator and attempted to take his camera from him to stop him from covering the confrontation.

Since the person who assaulted Molina belonged to the group that supports the Yes option, the president's sister, Pierina Correa, who is also the director of the governing Alianza País party in Guayas province, went to the television network's facilities after the incident to watch video recordings of the assault and attempt to identify those responsible.

Pierina Correa recognized two individuals who work for the Yes option, but said she did not know their names.

In a separate development, on 18 August, Government Minister Fernando Bustamante announced a ministerial resolution that forbids the media from videotaping or taking photographs of individuals who have been hurt in accidents or have been the victims of crimes. The resolution is expected to become a regulation in full effect by the end of September.

The minister said that the resolution was agreed upon in consultation with the attorney general, the commander of the police forces, the justice minister and the ombudsman.

The resolution is to take effect immediately inside legal medical units, morgues and operating theatres, and in procedures involving the removal of bodies. Bustamante justified the measure saying it would reduce exposure to violence and blood in the media and would also demonstrate respect for the rights and dignity of individuals affected by violence.

In future, the police will be responsible for sealing off all areas where accidents happen in order to avoid displaying bodies.

The Guayas Journalists' Association warned of the possibility that the resolution could lead to cases of abuse of authority and restrictions on journalistic freedom.

The Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundación Andina para la Observación y Estudio de Medios, Fundamedios) believes that although the resolution could be supported by the constitutional right to protection of privacy, the measure could also lead to cases of abuse of authority by police and other officials such that journalists could be prevented from working in areas where accidents or violent crimes have taken place. Fundamedios is appealing to newspapers and television stations that may have, in the past, been involved in violating rights to privacy to impose clear internal codes of conduct to stop this kind of abuse from happening in the future.

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