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RSF publishes report on media volatility and proposed communications law

(RSF/IFEX) – 15 June 2010 - A communications law, promoted by President Rafael Correa, should begin its final reading on 18 June 2010, after seven months of controversy within the National Assembly and the media profession.

It was against this background that Reporters Without Borders took part in the forum "Journalism under Debate" at the San Francisco de Quito University on 7-8 May, organised by journalist and teacher Éric Samson, who is also RSF's correspondent in Ecuador. Interviews conducted during the forum and on the sidelines of these two days of discussion provide the basis for the report RSF is releasing.

The press freedom landscape in Ecuador, in the light of the new law, is seen by many as characteristic of the Latin-American regional context involving sharp polarisation between a fledgling public press, seen as being close to government, and a privately owned media that is tendentious if not actually oppositional; volatile relations between these traditionally dominant private media and a progressive new government; a climate of unremitting "media war" with neither side ready for a truce. While this context does not a priori favour a consensus on the new law, it could at the same time present an opportunity to go beyond it.

RSF accepts that in principle the proposed Ecuadoran law genuinely aims to democratise the media scene. Most of those who contributed to this report, regardless of their political position, conceded the need for new and appropriate regulation. However, this report also reveals criticisms from both sides - and sometimes for the same reasons - about its practical application (types of sanctions, the composition of the planned Communication and Information Council, and the educational qualifications required to practise journalism).

These criticisms sometimes overlap with those of RSF. The law would be better if it deleted references to "news likely to provoke social upheaval and disorder" from the very small amount of content it would seek to ban. These ideas are vague and would produce self-censorship. But above all, RSF's concerns rest less on the content of the law than on essential supporting elements, without which its application could be compromised.

To RSF, three of these seem to be essential:
- the decriminalisation of the offences of "defamation and insult""
- a fair distribution of the benefit of official advertising concomitant with that of frequencies
- regulation of official announcements or messages, called "cadenas", limiting their number and putting strict conditions on their compulsory broadcast on all channels as is now the case during the week. Instead of explaining policy, these "cadenas" have become, through their form and frequency, instruments of aggressive propaganda - sometimes targeting the media or journalists - which reinforces polarisation.

View an example of a "cadena" (subtitled in English)

Click on the following link to download the report:
Ecuador_report.pdf (780 KB)

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