Ecuadoran president threatens action against critical media

New York, June 4, 2009–The opening of two government investigations into private television network Teleamazonas and threats of legal action by Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa against critical media outlets are an attempt by the government to stifle dissent, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

During his weekly radio address on Saturday, President Correa said that he would resort to legal action to “finish now with the corrupt press.” Following the president’s threat, the National Council of Telecommunications (CONARTEL)–Ecuador’s broadcasting regulator–upheld a sanction against Teleamazonas, which has two other pending investigations that could lead to the broadcaster’s shutdown, César Ricaurte, executive director of the local press freedom group Fundamedios, told CPJ. 

CONARTEL fined Teleamazonas US$20 after it aired a bullfight on February 17, the Ecuadoran press reported. A 2008 CONARTEL resolution forbids broadcast bullfights between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. On Saturday, Correa said Telemazonas had violated Article 58 of Ecuador’s Law on Broadcasting with last week’s broadcast of a story on the ecological damage caused by oil exploration in the southern Puná Island by the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA. The president also called for an investigation into the national daily El Universo for publishing a similar report, according to local news reports.

“By threatening to take direct action against media outlets that criticize President Correa’s policies, the Ecuadoran government is trying to repress opposing ideas and opinions,” said CPJ Americas Senior Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría. “We call on Correa to abstain from threatening critical media outlets.”

In May, CONARTEL opened a second investigation into the network for allegedly violating Article 58, which prohibits airing “news based on unfounded allegations that could produce social unrest,” in a story about ballot counting. If the network is sanctioned it could face a 90-day suspension for its second violation.

Correa has had a contentious relationship with Ecuador’s critical media since taking office in 2006. During his Saturday radio address, he said: “We are not willing to be the victims of a corrupt press,” which he also referred to as “conspirators” and “destabilizing.” Correa added that “the party is over, we are going to apply the law.” He threatened to take direct action against Teleamazonas and El Universo. Teleamazonas has been a harsh critic of Correa’s administration.

On May 28, unidentified individuals tossed two homemade bombs and antigovernment pamphlets at Teleamzonas’ offices in Quito, the Ecuadoran press reported. No one was injured during the attack, which caused minor damage to the building’s main entrance. Police say they are investigating the attack.