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Ecuador interrupts news show to air official rebuttals

New York, February 2, 2011--Ecuadoran authorities interrupted a news program critical of the Ecuadoran government on Monday to air an official rebuttal, a practice that has become standard in the administration of President Rafael Correa, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ calls on Ecuadoran authorities to stop this practice, which has a chilling effect on public discourse.   

Last week during the political news program "Los Desayunos" on the private Teleamazonas network, host María Josefa Coronel had criticized the government for several such recent interruptions during her show, according to the Quito-based press group Fundamedios. On Monday, the government ordered Teleamazonas to interrupt the show for more than two minutes and air a response to Coronel's comments. In the rebuttal, a video showed three women criticizing Coronel for her dissenting views.

It was the second government rebuttal on the same show in less than a week, according to Fundamedios. On January 25, "Los Desayunos" was interrupted for a five-minute official announcement. In a tape brought to the studio by a government official, a male voiceover described Coronel as "an opposition political actor," and said she was biased in her opinions. The official rebuttal also included a video presentation of three Correa supporters--a teacher, a housewife, and an "independent worker"--who disparaged Coronel, and called her an opposition activist.  

Ecuadoran journalists and free press advocates told CPJ that the government was misusing the broadcast law, which authorizes the use of the rebuttals, or cadenas.

"The government can't just bully its way onto the air," said Carlos Lauría, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas. "We call on the Ecuadoran government to stop this absurd practice, which hampers debate on issues of public interest, not to mention news coverage."      

Coronel's show was also interrupted in October after the host made comments suggesting the ruling party's congressmen were irrelevant, CPJ research shows. In 2010, the government also forced Teleamazonas to air rebuttals on other programs, including the morning news show "La Hora de Jorge Ortiz."

While other channels have also been directed to air rebuttals, Teleamazonas has faced the most intense censorship. It was forced off the air for three days in December 2009 after regulators found it had "incited public disorder" with a story about the potential repercussions of natural gas exploration off southern Puná Island. 

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