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Ecuador declares communication "a public service"; Fundamedios considers it a "serious setback"



The decision of the National Assembly of Ecuador to adopt amendments to the constitution on Dec. 3 caused alarm for freedom of expression organizations in that country.

The reason: within the package of 15 amendments adopted by the large government majority in the Assembly, there was an item that turned communication into “a public service.”

The nonprofit Fundamedios said this "implies a serious setback and a violation of the right to freedom of expression" because it turns the state into the owner of a human right.

Some political leaders agree, including César Montufar, president of the Movimiento Concertación party, who gave statements to the newspaper El Comercio days before the Dec. 3 session.

"When communication is established not as a right but as a public service, it gives the State the power to determine the conditions and even the content that communication can have," Montúfar said to El Comercio. "This explicitly and clearly contradicts this fundamental right in which the state can not, in any way, establish parameters or conditions for exercising it."

With this change, Article 384 would read as follows: “Communication as a public service will be provided through public, private and community based media. The social communication system will guarantee the exercise of rights of communication, information and freedom of expression, and will strengthen citizen participation,” according to Fundamedios.

According to Fundamedios, the bill to amend the constitution - which at the time had 17 amendments - was presented by the ruling bloc of the Assembly to the Constitutional Court on June 16, 2014.

Last June 18, the country's president, Rafael Correa, suggested to the members of his movement “look deeply into truly revolutionary issues and wondered ‘why not make a constitutional amendment’ to ‘establish that communication and particularly information should not just be a private business’ but ‘a public service that must be adequately guaranteed for society?’ as quoted by the newspaper El Comercio,” according to Fundamedios.

The Organic Law of Communication (LOC), adopted in 2013, had already introduced the concept of communication as a public service. A concept challenged as unconstitutional and that threatened international treaties, according to Fundamedios.

At the time, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a statement expressing concern about the approval of the LOC. According to the Special Rapporteur the "burdensome regulation" comes from the fact that it interprets communication as a public service.

“In this sense, understood as a public service, the State assumes exorbitant powers to regulate the exercise of the fundamental right to express oneself freely through any medium that a person chooses.”

However, with the recent approval of the reform, the concept now has a constitutional mandate.

“Ecuador’s constitutional amendments violate democratic principles,” said Carlos Ponce, director for Latin America programs of the nonprofit Freedom House. “In addition to removing term limits for government officials, they undermine freedom of expression by enshrining communication as a 'public service' that is subject to onerous government regulation, and enable military involvement in domestic policing. These measures were approved through a rubber-stamp legislature rather than by national vote, violating Ecuadorian law and marking a clear step backward for democracy.”

Fundamedios called “Ecuadorian citizens and the international community to be vigilant to any attempt by the Ecuadorian government to nationalize and take control of a media system that is already facing the consequences of an excessive concentration of power in the State.”

It also asks them to be alert for any attempt to control the “contents of the Internet platform and other communication systems not currently controlled by the State.”

 



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