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Government officials threaten, intimidate local journalists

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - 27 March 2012 - On 23 March 2012, the Minister of the Interior, José Serrano, warned he may initiate legal proceedings against Teleamazonas TV station if it does not present evidence of information, allegedly voiced during its news program, stating that the police had used teargas bombs during the marches that took place in Quito the previous day.

The minister wrote on his Twitter account @ppsesa: “I compel Teleamazonas to prove, within the next 48 hours, that the National Police threw teargas bombs yesterday", "otherwise we shall initiate legal proceedings against that private communication company”. In another message, the official wrote that he will wait for “the rectification in the same space and the same time during which the false information was broadcast”.

Going through recordings of Teleamazonas' 22 March news program, it is possible to verify that reporter Fausto Yépez did not mention “teargas bombs” but he did refer to some kind of gas in his account of the indigenous marches' arrival in the vicinity of the Assembly. “At that moment they had to mobilize several motorbikes, some police officers used gas to disperse the demonstrators who started to filter into the vicinity of the Assembly...”, Yépez says.

Lawyer Juan Carlos Solines, an expert in communications, believes that “no written norm exists that regulates the constitutional right of reply, so the minister cannot initiate legal proceedings in that sense. He could argue, however, that the allegedly erroneous information caused a 'public commotion', based on the Broadcasting and Television Law, but this would be farfetched and very questionable”.

This incident comes soon after another one that took place on 22 March, when the National Communication Secretary, Fernando Alvarado, interrupteda Radio Democracia interview program, presented by Gonzalo Rosero, to demand more respect in the use of a public resource to inform, and to clarify "a lie" about the Communication Law bill.

“I want to tell you (...) that you are making use of public resources with your information and the frequency through which you broadcast your news, your information, and you cannot say such a huge lie. Imagine a Communication Law proposal that would prevent you from reporting information as you are doing now”. “I believe you are speculating (...) I request and demand, as a listener, more respect for the public, more respect for the use of the frequency given as a concession by the State and more respect for that which is public," he stated.

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