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News crews harassed

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - 9 May 2011 - On 8 May 2011, Freddy Barros, news director of Ecuavisa TV, reported that the station's crew was prevented from filming outside of the ruling party's headquarters in Quito, during a meeting held by Alianza País's executive committee with President Rafael Correa, after results of a popular consultation were announced.

Barros told Fundamedios that the police officers outside the party's headquarters informed them that they had received "orders from above" stating that they should prevent any filming or photographing of the building's exterior while the meeting was held. Once the meeting was over, at 3:00 am, the media were allowed to film and take photographs of the participating officials.

In addition, in a 7 May incident, journalist Alex Cevallos of Ecuavisa TV denounced during the station news program's live broadcast that he was prevented from taping or interviewing President Correa as he left his home during the day of the voting. Cevallos told Fundamedios that he and his team arrived at 5:45 am to cover the president's activities during the day. However, a few meters from Correa's home, the soldiers who provide him with security demanded that the journalists leave the area and prevented them from filming or attempting to interview the head of state.

"They approached to tell us that we couldn't be there, that we couldn't get through, and that the only journalists allowed were those who work for the state-owned stations Ecuador TV and Gama TV," the journalist explained. Gama TV has been under state control since it was seized by the government.

However, the National Communications Department rejected this accusation in a letter claiming that Ecuavisa "did not submit a request or follow any of the proceedings demanded by security," as requested by the Presidential Protection Service (SPP).

The private TV stations claimed that they had not been told they needed to get special accreditation. Teleamazonas' news coordination department confirmed that they knew nothing about these proceedings, while Barros reported that Ecuavisa "hadn't received any notification, whether verbal or written, stating that they should seek accreditation in order to tape the president's home outside area."

That same day, journalist Luis Becerra Chalan, of the newspaper "La Hora" in the city of Machala, 518 km from Quito, denounced that he was forced to delete his photographs by members of the National Electoral Council while he was covering the voting process.

The incident occurred while Becerra was photographing a member of the Police's Special Operations Group who was voting at the time. However, Alexander Guamán, coordinator of the voting precinct in Luz de America School, approached the photographer accompanied by a soldier to ask him to delete the material.

Guamán justified his behavior by saying he had received orders from Gabriela Díaz and Alfonso Mogrovejo, both members of the National Council. Becerra stated, however, that he took the photographs having received authorization from the gendarme.

Previously, on 6 May, representatives of national and local media accredited in the city of Machala, 518 km southwest of Quito, were prevented from entering the city jail to cover 32 prisoners who were participating in the vote; the media was later allowed to film segments that were up to three minutes long.

Jorge Fabricio Lapo, a correspondent for Ecuavisa TV, told Fundamedios that the press was forbidden from entering by a guide who was in charge of security at the jail's entrance.

A similar case took place at the Esmeraldas Rehabilitation Center for men. Esmeraldas is located 318 km north of Quito. There, a Telecosta Channel 5 news crew was prevented from covering the voting proceedings. Journalist Francisco Hernández Ibarra and camera operator Geovanny Córdova denounced that they were prevented from entering the premises by one of the penitentiary guards at the door. They said the order had been issued by María Falcones, the center's director, who was "following her superiors' orders".

Córdova had to climb a small hill in order to capture some images of the penitentiary center's interior.

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