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Draft communication law needs improvement, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 19 March 2010 - A conference on media ethics and self-regulation has been held in Ecuador as Congress discusses a Draft Bill on Media Regulation. Concerns have been raised about some of the provisions that may potentially impose unnecessary limits to freedom of expression. ARTICLE 19 and FUNDAMEDIOS strongly call upon members of the Ecuadorian National Assembly to pay special attention to securing the free flow of information, ideas and opinions, according to international standards for freedom of expression.

The National Assembly first discussed the Draft Bill on Media Regulation in November 2009. The Bill contains provisions enabling prior censorship and restrictions to content, as well as provisions that indirectly impose compulsory membership of a journalism association in order to practise this profession. All of these constitute restrictions to free expression beyond those permitted under international human rights standards.

The National Assembly agreed to review the Draft Bill, in the face of opposition by national and international organisations, but it continues to contemplate restrictions to content. For example, all media will be required to adopt and register a code of ethics before a Communications Commission. This entity would be in charge of enforcing these respective codes, with the power to impose sanctions in case of infringement.

Under such circumstances, a two-day conference hosted by FUNDAMEDIOS took place in Quito, Ecuador on 11-12 February to explore media ethics and self-regulatory systems. In the presence of the President of the National Assembly, Fernando Cordero, an array of experts, researchers and activists exchanged views on international best practices for media regulation that should be taken on account in the current legislative process.

ARTICLE 19 highlighted the international obligations of the Government of Ecuador to promote and protect the right to freedom of expression, and stressed the following principles related to broadcasting content:

• Where an effective self-regulatory system for addressing broadcasting content concerns is in place, and administrative system should not be imposed;
• Any content rules should be developed in close consultation with broadcasters and other interested parties, and should only be finalised after public consultation; and
• Responsibility for oversight of any content rules should lie with an independent regulatory body.

Under international law, it is well established that pluralism is an important aspect of freedom of expression. "Local content rules which promote diversity of expression can be consistent with freedom of expression, but this is clearly not the case in Ecuador," explained Dario Ramirez, director of ARTICLE 19's office for Mexico and Central America.

Expert journalists from Peru, Spain and Colombia shared successful experiences on self-regulation from their countries, including the process for the media's adoption of a code of ethics and the establishment of independent entities in charge of supervising the implementation of those codes.

Other issues raised during the conference included the lack of independence of the Communications Commission meant to oversee the enforcement of the media regulation as membership includes official representatives.

ARTICLE 19 and FUNDAMEDIOS call upon the National Assembly of Ecuador to:

• Guarantee respect for the right to freedom of expression, according to international law and best international practices of broadcasting regulation in the Draft Bill on Media Regulation;
• Refrain from restricting content beyond that applying to all forms of expression; and
• Guarantee the independence of the body meant to oversee the media in the wider public interest.

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