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Ecuadorian newspaper targeted over readers' critical comments

(Fundamedios/IFEX) - 10 October 2012 - On 6 October 2012, during his 292nd Enlace Ciudadano (Saturday radio and TV program), President Rafael Correa stated that Fernando Alvarado, communication secretary, sent a letter to the newspaper El Comercio requesting the names of the individuals who had allegedly insulted him through the readers' comments posted on the paper's web page.

Accompanied by a video recording, the Chief of State asserted: "El Comercio was sent a very strong letter, although in strict accordance with the law. That's enough insults, enough filth in its web page, denigrating the President of the Republic and other persons, the citizens' integrity (. . . ) we will request the names of those people [who are responsible] so we can apply the law and the newspaper will also be held responsible (. . .). They know they are breaking the law and are committing impressive abuses that denigrate the condition of a media outlet. For shameless people, for the corrupt, there is no worse threat than the application of the law."

El Comercio responded to the threatening letter sent by the communication secretary by suspending all comments on its web page until it finds a system that will allow it to filter potentially offensive statements.

The Ombudsman's Office came out in favor of the newspaper's decision to suspend readers' comments. A letter signed by Ombudsman Ramiro Alfredo Rivadeneira states that it considers it "correct that the newspaper El Comercio acknowledged in its printed issue of 30 September 2012, 1st Section, page 5, that certain expressed opinions could be seen as 'an attack against the integrity and good name of some people', and that these opinions were posted online as a result of deficiencies in the mechanism used to manage the content of information posted on the [media outlet's] web page; we recommend to the outlet in question, that the measures announced in order to respect these rights and which have led to the temporary suspension of readers' comments, promote pluralism of information and opinion without disrespecting human dignity". This letter was published by the newspaper on 7 October.

According to Fundamedios, it is unheard of that the Ombudsman - the institution that is tasked with watching over Ecuadorian citizens' rights - should endorse the threats issued by an official against the readers of a media outlet, in order to safeguard the dignity of public officials at the expense of the fundamental right to free expression.

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