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Ecuadorian government tries to impose conditions on media's editorial criteria

The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today [24 July 2014] described as a harsh attempt to impose conditions on news media's editorial criteria, a document issued by the body that regulates information in Ecuador. Such document advises how media should ethically handle news and opinions concerning an economy bill under debate in the Legislative Assembly.

The Council for Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (Cordicom) posted on its Website on July 21 a pronouncement in which, quoting the Constitution, it expressed concern at the way news media was handling the bill for a Monetary and Financial Code, claiming “possible 'risks' with the Ecuadorean financial system if the proposal is approved.” In this regard, it urged the media to engage in “ethical opinions to prevent unjustified social fears.”

The chairman of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, Claudio Paolillo, declared, “We regret this harsh action which by experience in Ecuador, shows us that this kind of warning is the preface to more laws and greater restrictions on the press.”

Paolillo, editor of the Montevideo, Uruguay, weekly Búsqueda, added, “It is usual for the government of Ecuador to accuse the media of being immoral, so as to justify sanctions that are not resolved by the issue of ethics but rather with strong civil and criminal penalties.”

Cordicom's pronouncement has generated confusion and alarm in the local press as the new Penal Code which takes effect on August 10 includes the offense of "financial panic" which indirectly has been referenced by the official body in his warning to the media. This offense punishes those responsible with imprisonment of five to seven years.

The IAPA coincides with the view of the Ecuadorean Newspaper Editors and Publishers Association (AEDEP) that Cordicom's warning is a “veiled call to the media to practice prior censorship on news and opinions about this issue.”

Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and the IAPA-sponsored Declaration of Chapultepec state that obstacles to the dissemination of information, censorship and prior censorship directly oppose freedom of expression and press freedom. At the same time it is reflected in these documents that journalistic ethics are defined and reserved for the exclusive conduct of journalists and media and may not be imposed from outside the profession.

The IAPA rejected as inappropriate Cordicom's interference concerning editorial criteria and journalistic ethics. In its pronouncement Cordicom states that “it is necessary to declare that all players in the social communication system must have a commitment to the truth …. We stress the responsibility that must be maintained before society through an ethical, truthful and pluralistic journalistic practice, even more so in dealing with sensitive matters such as the liquidation of banks, the security of deposits, stability of the financial system or dollarization.”

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