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Ecuador threatens free expression by designating communications a public service

This statement was originally published on fundamedios.org on 3 December 2015.

On 3 December 2015, with 100 votes in favor, eight against, and one abstention, the National Assembly, in its 360th session, approved a package of 15 amendments to the constitution proposed by ruling party assembly members. One of the constitutional amendments turns communication into a public service, which could be a serious setback and a violation of the right to freedom of expression.

After 10 hours of debate, the National Assembly approved the amendment of Article 384 of the Constitution, which will now include the following paragraph: “Communication as a public service will be provided through public, private and community-based media”. The article in question, under the title of “Social Communication” in the constitution, will now read: “Communication as a public service will be provided through public, private and community-based media. The social communication system will guarantee the exercise of rights of communication, information and freedom of expression, and will strengthen citizen participation…”.

On 26 June 2014, ruling party assembly members, led by the president of the National Assembly, Gabriela Rivadeneira, delivered to the Constitutional Court the bill to amend the Constitution with an initial number of 17 amendments. The inclusion of the amendment concerning communication follows a proposal put forward in recent months by the Council for the Regulation and Development Information (Cordicom). However, it was the president of the Republic who on 18 June, during his speech before the Standing Committee on Political Education of the ruling party Alianza País, suggested to its members that they should look deeply into truly revolutionary issues and wondered “why not make a constitutional amendment” to “establish that communication and particularly information should not just be a private business”, but “a public service that must be adequately guaranteed for society?”, as quoted by the newspaper El Comercio.

Before the Constitution was amended, the Organic Communications Law, in Article 79, had already introduced the concept that communication should be a public service when stating that “…social communication as presented through the media is a public service that should be provided with responsibility and quality, respecting the rights of communication established by the Constitution and international instruments and contributing to the well-being of the people… ”

This concept was widely questioned as unconstitutional and as a threat against international treaties.

Fundamedios warns of the adverse consequences of the fact that the State should acquire ownership of a human right, which from now on in Ecuador will be a “public service”.

Fundamedios calls on Ecuadorian citizens and the international community to be vigilant for any attempt by the Ecuadorian government to nationalize and take control of a media system that is already facing the consequences of an excessive concentration of power in the State. It also requests you to be alert if there is any attempt to control the contents of online platforms and other communication systems not currently controlled by the State.

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