Press freedom in Ecuador has been under fire for many years now, but the heat has risen in recent months. The congress approved a media watchdog and redistribution law, and Vanguardia, the nation’s only weekly magazine with investigative journalism, has closed its doors.
This week in Across the Americas, Gabriela Calderon, editor of ElCato.org and a columnist with El Universo, joins me to give an in-depth examination of both this new law and the broader system of media control in the country. In addition to this video, we have her column on the topic, “Ecuador’s Politicians: Public Servants or Redeemers?” (en español).
The most significant aspects of the law include increased punishment for what government defines as libel — overseen by a new council of media regulations — and forms of redistribution which confine privately owned media to just one third of the market. Calderon says the law’s language is ambiguous, however, and it opens the door for arbitrary and unnecessary prosecutions. Further, it particularly targets print publications, one realm where a limited degree of freedom of expression remains (given no licensing), and it may even include social media.
Calderon identifies an alliance of proponents: politicians who want to stifle criticism and mercantilist cronies, such as indigenous networks and local artists who benefit from the state’s redistribution in their favor. Many of the indigenous outlets, she says, rely almost solely on government subsidies, since they receive both direct funding and preferential treatment for advertising. Artists, on the other hand, benefit from protectionist mandates against foreign content.
Calderon goes so far as to call media suppression in Ecuador more sophisticated than the chavismo approach in Venezuela. While not as overt, she says, it brings together legislation, intimidation, and financial dependence. Even before the law, heavily armed government teams (similar to SWAT teams in the United States) broke into Vanguardia and confiscated their materials without any due process. Additionally, newspapers such as El Universo and El Comercio no longer receive government advertising, simply because government officials don’t like them.
Regarding criticism and intimidation against her, she says the key strategy is to use state media outlets to attack your character. The editor of El Telégrafo, for example, ran an article titled, “The Insolent Ignorance of Gabriela Calderon” — but she is not deterred and considers such attacks a badge of honor.
I apologize for the lighting difficulty. We shall work to correct that in future episodes.