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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Ecuadorian media abstains from republishing critical image of the president, illustrates climate of self-censorship



Image created for World Press Freedom Day by WAN-IFRA to highlight the pressures Ecuadorian journalists face from President Rafael Correa's government. 

On World Press Freedom Day, celebrated last May 3, Ecuadorian media outlets abstained from republishing an illustration created by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) that criticizes President Rafael Correa for his government's pressures against the press.

For journalists in Ecuador, the omission is a reflection of the type of self-censorship that more media outlets and journalists in the country are increasingly submitting to in order to avoid fines and legal confrontations with the government, which gained a wider range of tools to repress its critics in the media after the approval of the country's controversial Communications Law last year. 

In the days before World Press Freedom Day, WAN-IFRA published three illustrations to share with print and digital media outlets with the purpose of highlighting the challenges that journalsits face in three countries in particular: Ecuador, China and Ethiopia. The illustration on Ecuador shows President Correa speaking behind a podium from which a press descends and begins to crush three journalists.

According to Diego Cornejo, executive director of the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Editors (AEDEP), several dailies in the country received WAN-IFRA's images but just published the ones alluding to the situation of the press in China and Ethiopia. 

"The newspapers in Ecuador that published WAN-IFRA's images only published the ones related to China and Ethiopia. The image depicting Correa was not published in paper or on the web," Cornejo told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. 

An Ecuadorian editor who works for one of the most important dailies in the country -- and who preferred not to reveal her identity to avoid creating problems for her publication with the government -- said that her newspaper's decision, and of many others, not to use the image was a consequence of their fear to face fines and legal problems. 

“It is obviously a sign of fear from media outlets and journalists when it comes to using any image that could be seen as a direct criticism of the government. It is a sample of the self-censorship imposed by the Communications Law, which ironically condemns censorship but only in name, given that the creation of special agencies that issue sanctions on media outlets and journalists encourages self-censorship. This is a gag law," the journalist said. 

For WAN-IFRA's secretary general Larry Kilman, the absence of a discussion in the media or social networks regarding the image and its criticism of the situation that the press faces in the country reveals the level of control authorities have managed to obtain over the public debate. 

The Ecuadorian government "imposes its own position and sets the agenda by defining the issues of public interest, and when they are to be debated. It is carrying out a strategy that marginalises all voices independent of state power," Kilman said. 

While WAN-IFRA's China and Ethiopia illustrations highlighted the incarceration of journalists in those countries, the one on Ecuador underscored the government's multimillionaire defamation lawsuits against media outlets, the regular stigmatization of journalists in Correa's regular television broadcasts, and the Organic Communications Law, which the organization called "one of the most restrictive media laws in the continent."

This year Ecuadorian cartoonist Xavier Bonilla became the first person to be fined under the law. The country's Information and Communications Superintendence ordered him to rectify an editorial cartoon that it deemed defamatory and fined newspaper El Universo -- where the cartoon was published -- with 2 percent of the publication's earnings during its last quarter. 

In March, Diario Extra also received a fine for 10 percent of its earnings during its last quarter for allegedly having failed to comply with orders to correct two of its headlines. 

Several international organizations, including the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, have expressed their concern over the situation of the press in Ecuador. 



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