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In Ecuador, government uses official bulletins as line of defence

(CPJ/IFEX)- 4 February 2013 - The following is a CPJ Blog post:

By John Otis/CPJ Andes Correspondent

On September 11, 2012, the Ecuadoran government interrupted a morning newscast on the Teleamazonas TV station for an official bulletin. What could be so urgent? A coup d'etat? An earthquake? A cholera outbreak?

It turned out the government sought to clarify what President Rafael Correa had for breakfast.

The issue arose a week earlier on Teleamazonas when an opposition lawmaker claimed that during Correa's visit to a provincial town where he ate breakfast in a local market, the president's food had actually been provided by a nearby hotel. It wasn't exactly "breakfast-gate." Yet the secretary of communications put together a three-minute rebuttal complete with interviews of market vendors who confirmed that they had prepared the empanadas and coffee that Correa had consumed.

Under Ecuador's 2008 Constitution, which guarantees the "right to reply" to those who maintain they were slandered by the media, Teleamazonas, a private station that's often critical of the government, had no choice but to broadcast the segment.

The practice of pre-empting broadcasts for official announcements, known as cadenas, was enshrined in Ecuador's radio and television law in 1974, under a military government. Back then, the state did not own any TV stations and the provision was designed to guarantee air time for important government announcements and communiqués in times of crisis, according to César Ricaurte, director of the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of the Media, or Fundamedios.

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