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Ecuadorian magazine fined $80,000 for opinion article

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - 28 September 2012 - On 26 September 2012, an Electoral Tribunal sanctioned Vistazo magazine with an 80 thousand dollar fine because it found the editorial entitled "Un NO Rotundo" (An Emphatic NO) - about questions posed in the Popular Consultation and Referendum of 7 May 2011 - to be "electoral propaganda".

In a 24-page-long sentence, judges Catalina Castro, Patricia Zambrano, Angelina Veloz, Guillermo González and Miguel Pérez considered Vistazo's editorial to have violated the 48-hour electoral silence established prior to the vote, rendering null and void the first instance ruling issued by Judge Ximena Endara, who on 12 December 2011 decided to reject the accusation against the magazine.

This new sentence states that Vistazo's editorial "is, without a doubt, the declaration of a media outlet's opinion, expressed in such a way that it encourages the public to vote according to the electoral preferences of the magazine". The judges confirm that "all in all, every proposal that, as part of the electoral process, aims to seek support towards one of the voting options and, by doing this, aspires to favor it by influencing the popular vote, is and should be understood as electoral propaganda (...)".

The 80 thousand dollar fine was arrived at by the judges by considering that "it is of public knowledge that Vistazo magazine is distributed nationwide and has been present in the market for more than 55 years, which shows its high level of acceptance among readers" so that "the damage caused (...) cannot be compared to what a parochial or district-wide circulation weekly would have produced, given the number of readers who received the message (...)".

It is worth recalling that on 20 June 2011, Víctor Raúl Ocaña García, president of the Bolivarian Solidary Economy Chamber, and various members of the organizations Sumak Tarpuy Ayllukunapak, Confederation of Members of the Peasants' Social Security, Diabluma and the Nukanchi Allpawho Corporation, which are all related to the government, sued the magazine after President Rafael Correa requested, during his 4 May Saturday radio and TV program, that it should be sanctioned for committing what he called "a shameless electoral infraction". They also demanded a 100 thousand dollar payment as the fine.

The magazine issued a statement on its website declaring that "resolving in the last instance the appeal of the organizations that accuse Vistazo, has taken nine months, precisely the time that should elapse before the judges of the Electoral Tribunal were changed. The newspaper El Telégrafo has neither been prosecuted nor sanctioned - and it should not be - for a column published on 6 May, a day before the referendum, where it expressed why the public should vote "Ten times yes". These are two different criteria by which to judge opinion".

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