Yesterday the president of Ecuador’s National Assembly, Fernando Cordero, announced via Twitter that voting on communications legislation advanced by the government would be postponed indefinitely, due to a lack of quorum. “The 124 assembly members are not all present, so I would prefer to convene another day,” Cordero said.
The legislation to be voted on, known as the Ley de Comunicación, would substantially reduce the percentage of radio and television outlets distributed among the private and public sectors. Voting was previously postponed on April 11, 2012. Under the terms of the proposed legislation, 34 percent of radio and TV frequencies would be allocated to community media, 33 percent to public media, and 33 percent to the private sector—which currently controls 85 percent of radio frequencies and 71 percent of TV frequencies, according to the State Superintendent of Telecommunications. The legislation also creates a five-member regulatory board with authority to place penalties on media sources that refuse to modify published information.
César Rodríguez, an opposition member of Congress, said in a statement to the press, “They do not have the votes to censor freedom of expression in Ecuador,” referring to the 63 votes that the ruling Alianza País would need to pass the legislation. (The coalition currently controls 53 seats in the National Assembly.)
Further criticism came from legislator Tomás Zevallos, who presented a motion (accepted in April) to vote on each of the bill's 128 articles individually, arguing that the law has ambiguous sections and accusing the administration of using the media to advance the political agenda of the government. María Paula Romo, founding member and political activist of the “Ruptura de los 25,” a progressive political movement, submitted observations on the text of the law in which she questioned whether it would determine certain ethical principles that fall outside the scope of legal regulation.
The stunning announcement that Hosni Mubarak was resigning from Egypt’s presidency in response to widespread civil protests—in which the media played no small part—is yet again a reminder of journalism’s democratic purpose. Coupled with AOL’s purchase of The Huffington Post, it also illustrates the rapid changes journalism has undergone of late.
Ideally, a free press serves as one of many checks and balances in the political system, fosters accountability, provides a public forum for diverse voices, and builds an informed citizenry that can participate in the democratic process. It preserves democracy where it exists and even helps to foster democracy where it does not. When obstructed from fulfilling these roles, the media not only fail to advance democratic governance, but can actively undermine it.
But a fundamental question dominates the industry today: How can the media, especially in Latin America, continue to fulfill its essential roles in the face of continuous challenges?