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Newspaper continuously harassed by President Rafael Correa

(IPYS/IFEX) - Since 2007, the Guayaquil-based "El Universo" newspaper has been harassed by Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa. Correa has not only publicly alleged that the newspaper makes mistakes and publishes inaccurate information, but he has also discredited and insulted it, accusing it of lacking objectivity because it opposes the government.

The last incident took place on 17 January 2009, when Correa, during his radio programme, urged people to stop buying "El Universo" and to buy "El Telégrafo", the government-backed newspaper, instead. The president also criticised María Josefa Coronel, a news programme host for the Teleamazonas television network, after she refuted allegations of tax evasion that Correa made against the network.

On 15 January, when Correa was delivering his accounts report, he accused "El Universo" of belonging to "phantom" companies whose capital is in the Cayman Islands: ". . . how is this morally acceptable, where is the self-criticism among the media . . ." (sic), Correa said.

The president, who had already made reference to this issue on his 10 January radio programme, said that the newspaper had evaded paying taxes, that its owners are "enemies of change" and that "it is necessary to fight them."

On his 13 September 2008 radio programme, Correa said that the newspaper was the voice of the right: "This is a disgusting newspaper, it's an embarrassment" (sic), he said after complaining about an article on the lack of security in the country. He branded the newspaper as "a sham" in the service "of the old mafias that governed the country". He also described its journalists as "ignorant, beasts, liars and incompetent."

On 2 January 2009, the president was annoyed because the newspaper published the amount of the 2008 expenditures on official advertising. In an editorial piece that appeared on its front page, the newspaper said that Correa wants to remove advertising from the newspaper in retaliation for its accusations and opinions.

The dispute between the newspaper and the president began in 2007, when Correa said that the "El Universo" was lying when it published an article alleging that he had hired his relatives to work for the government.

In May of that year, Correa evicted Emilio Palacio, an editorial writer for "El Universo", from one of the presidential building's halls for "interrupting" his press conference. The same thing happened to journalist Sandra Ochoa, whom Correa described as a "hideous fatty" after the journalist criticised him during a press conference for not answering questions about issues of interest to the public.

IPYS and Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media (Fundación Andina para la Observación y Estudio de los Medios, Fundamedios) protest against the harassment and the campaign to discredit "El Universo" and its journalists and consider it to be unacceptable that tax information pertaining to the shareholders or owners of a media outlet is used as a tool to discredit it.

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