Former president Rafael Correa’s government used state media outlets as campaign propaganda machines, it was alleged today. His administration’s censorship policies also constituted a ruthless assault on free media in Ecuador, according to César Ricaurte, the co-founder and executive director of the Andean Foundation for Social Observation and Study of the Media (FUNDAMEDIOS). The media watchdog has exposed the systematic closing of space for freedom of expression and the maligning of professional journalists. At a recent forum at the National Endowment for Democracy (above), Ricaurte explored the challenges presented by authoritarian populism and outlined the societal impact of Correa’s regime, writes Frini Chantzi.
Throughout his ten years in office, Correa labelled media as the opposition. Over this period, some 2,000 attacks against journalists were recorded, while the administration used propaganda and censorship against media outlets, attacking their credibility and limiting their ability to play a watchdog role. Correa developed a multi-faceted strategy, rewarding compliant media and punishing critics and nonconformists, attempting to censor where he could not patronize, employing a variety of mechanisms against critical media by setting legal or bureaucratic obstacles to their operation.
A new communications law treats media as a public service, placing the government in charge of content and facilitating the spread of pro- government propaganda. The government abused “Safe Harbor” provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a provision of United States copyright law that protects internet intermediaries, such as Google or Twitter, from copyright liability over users’ activities, but requires them to remove allegedly-infringing content at the request of copyright holders. Correa used this provision to tie every product of governmental origin into a copyright web for purposes of political censorship. When civil society made its dissatisfaction apparent, the government tried to restrict freedom of association and remove legal status from any organization that would try to speak against its accords. According to Human Rights Watch, as a result of these practices Ecuador ranked 119th in Reporters without Borders’ 2013 World Press Freedom Index, down 15 places from 2012.
After the recent inauguration of Lenin Moreno as Ecuador’s President, the country’s beleaguered journalists are hoping the new administration is more respectful of media rights. In order to create a more libertarian environment, the government needs to recognize the independence of public media and halt harassment against independent journalists, said Ricaurte.
Frini Chantzi is an intern at the National Endowment for Democracy.