A proposed law in Ecuador has the potential to choke off freedom of the press in a way that even the September 30 mandate that all public television stations broadcast only the Cadena Nacional has failed to do. The Ley Orgánica de Comunicación, Libertad de Expresión y Aceso a la Información Pública, commonly referred to as the Ley de Comunicación, would concentrate power over media outlets in the hands of the national government.
The Ley de Comunicación was first introduced in September 2009 and was hotly debated in the Ecuadorian Assembly. It was to be debated again this fall, but debate has been delayed indefinitely. This comes after letters of opposition to the ley were sent to Assembly President Fernando Cordero Cueva by Human Rights Watch and the Organization of American States and after a trip to Washington DC by seven congresspeople—referred to as the seven enanitos (little dwarves) by President Rafael Correa—to present their concerns with the ley to various international human rights organizations. Add to this a tense political atmosphere following the September 30 police incident. Dinah Shelton, the president of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights has promised to come to Ecuador in January to observe debate of the ley.
Three overriding concerns exist with regard to how the proposed law would affect freedom of speech and free access to information. First, it creates a Consejo de Comunicación charged with reviewing media productions for their verifiability and truthfulness. Second, it creates a strict regimen of sanctions for those journalists and media outlets that are found to be in violation of regulations by the Consejo de Comunicación. Finally, the ley requires that all journalists and media sources be registered with the government and that journalists have an official card to work as media. Indirectly, these three elements will likely lead to self-censorship by those who fear being reprimanded by the Consejo.
While states have regulatory bodies to govern media outlets, these are normally autonomous from the government. However, with the Consejo de Comunicación, there are no efforts to create an autonomous entity. Instead, the power to decide what is true, and thus determine what information may be broadcast to the population, would lie in the hand of a government body that while not autonomous from the administration, would nonetheless be largely anonymous.
A written, the Ley de Comunicación would limit opposing viewpoints and the debate necessary for Ecuador’s future.
*Lindsay Green-Barber is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. She is a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and PhD candidate at City University in New York and is in Ecuador doing field research for her doctoral dissertation on information and communication technologies and social movements in developing countries.