“The lack of objectivity, the absence of contextualization and biased information are, to say the least, pathetic,” Correa said in a speech at New York’s Columbia University this past fall. “We are not intolerant of the media. What we don’t tolerate are their lies.”
Popular and buoyed by a congressional majority, Correa and his allies won support for a new constitution in 2008 that gave the government more regulatory power and opened the door to state restrictions by compelling “truthful, verified, timely” press reports.
More recently, broadcast media owners have been barred from having other businesses under a new law, while plans are in the works to create a press regulatory body that would be largely controlled by the president’s office. The Committee to Protect Journalists describes a government so obsessed with the media that the state frequently commandeers the airwaves so government spokesmen can refute news programs, often in the middle of those reports.
Jeanette Hinostroza, whose reporting on the Teleamazonas television station is often cited by government officials as unethical, has been interrupted by the official rebuttals.
In an interview, Hinostroza said she is also hamstrung by fear of a defamation suit by Correa or other public officials. “If before I was very careful about information, now I am double and triple and quadruple careful to check things,” she said. “Because I am afraid. I know they can ruin me.”
Indeed, such suits by public officials, though out of favor in several Latin American countries, have increased in Ecuador, said Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The motive is to squelch dissenting voices, said Lauria, explaining that such viewpoints are also “met with claims of conspiracies and charges of the oligarchs pulling strings.”
Correa, in his speech at Columbia University, suggested that his “honor” had been stolen by the media and asked why reporters should not be jailed for defaming him.
Journalists face jail
Last year, in Correa’s biggest win, a judge ruled against a columnist at El Universo, Emilio Palacio, who had written that the president was “a dictator.” The judge sentenced Palacio and El Universo’s three directors to three years of jail and ordered that the paper pay $40 million in damages So far, appeals by the Perez brothers — the three owners of El Universo — have failed.
“We don’t have the money,” said Cesar Perez, a top editor at the paper. “This puts this property at risk, and could wind up in his hands. This would be horrible, a very, very hard blow for this institution.”