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Ecuador's national assembly approves communication law

UPDATE from Fundamedios: President of Ecuador enacts law that restricts freedom of the press (24 June 2013)

Ecuador's National Assembly approved a new Communications Law on 14 June 2013. A total of 108 of the 137 Assembly members voted in favor of the bill presented by Assembly member Mauro Andino, in which were introduced last-minute changes that were not debated by the Assembly.

Along its approval process, the Communications bill had been observed by international agencies and organizations such as the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, among others, because it did not comply with international standards on freedom of expression.

The law approved by the National Assembly establishes several issues that put the freedoms of expression and of the press at serious risk and which openly counter international standards on the matter, as well as the progress that had been achieved over the recent decades on the right to freedom of expression. These include:

- Codes and ethical standards that infringe the principle that establishes that ethical behavior can never be imposed by the State.

- Preemptive censorship through the legal concept of "media lynching", which prohibits the dissemination of information related to vague and subjective concepts.

- The creation of an Information Superintendence appointed from a shortlist of three candidates submitted by the President of the Republic, with functions that include monitoring and sanctioning the media and journalists.

- The creation of a regulatory body and development of an Information and Communication Council represented exclusively by public authorities and without representatives of the public and the media.

- The Regulatory Council's authority to issue regulations containing sanctions, breaking with the principle of legality enshrined in the Constitution and international human rights instruments in force in Ecuador.

- The imposition of contents and programming quotas to the media.

Even potential democratic gains of the Law, such as the recognition of the three sectors of communication (community based, public and private) are established in such a way that they seem designed to reinforce the State's growing hegemony in communications, rather than opening it to the necessary plurality and diversity.

In this regard, Fundamedios draws attention to the fact that the law approved in Ecuador this midday is not a Radio and Television Act, which is the field in which new generation legislation has begun to be discussed and approved in several countries in Latin America. On the contrary, Ecuador's Communications Law signifies a return to the old press laws of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when attempts were made to stifle and limit the work of the printed press.

For all these reasons, Fundamedios, as civil society organization that promotes, monitors and protects freedom of expression and the quality of journalism in Ecuador, calls the attention of the international community to legislation that is nothing but the most recent act of a government plan that, opposing the Constitution and international human rights instruments, establishes preemptive censorship in the country, fosters a growing self-censorship and promotes the accumulation of media outlets by the State eliminating critical voices at the same time.

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