The press freedom climate continued its sharp decline under President Rafael Correa. In September, a CPJ special report concluded that Correa’s policies had transformed the country into one of the hemisphere’s most restrictive nations for the press. In March, Correa brought a criminal libel complaint against senior managers of El Universo, the country’s leading critical daily. The case, which centered on a biting opinion column that condemned Correa’s actions in a 2010 standoff with police, resulted in convictions, prison sentences, and multimillion-dollar fines against the managers. The managers were free on appeal in late year. Other government officials also used the nation’s archaic criminal defamation laws to try to silence journalists. The president made frequent use of cadenas, presidential addresses that pre-empt all private broadcast programming nationwide, to smear individual journalists and news outlets. Although cadenas have traditionally been used to deliver information in times of crisis, they have become a forum for political confrontation under Correa. The administration used other tactics to supplant independent voices with its own perspective, repeatedly ordering individual broadcasters to give over portions of their news programming to government “rebuttals.” In a May referendum, voters approved ballot measures that would allow the administration to regulate news content in vaguely defined areas and force media owners to divest other holdings.
When Correa took office in 2007, state media consisted of a single radio network. Since then, the administration has built one of the region's most extensive state media operations, which serves largely as a presidential megaphone.
State media operations:
5: Television stations
4: Radio stations
1: News agency
Ecuadoran television was pre-empted more than a thousand times for cadenas since Correa came to power, according to Fundación Ethos, a nonpartisan Mexico-based research organization.
The press group Andean Foundation for Media Observation & Study, known as Fundamedios, documented nearly 150 press freedom violations as of November 2011. They include physical and verbal attacks, threats, harassment, arbitrary lawsuits and judicial decisions, coerced pre-emption, and obstruction.
At a May referendum, voters narrowly approved a series of administration-backed ballot questions, including two that harm press freedom. Voters approved in concept a communications law that would, in turn, create a media regulatory council. The precise text of the law was being debated by the National Assembly in late year. The other ballot measure barred private national media companies, executives, and main shareholders from holding assets in other companies.
Ballot measure breakdown:
5: Members of the regulatory council, out of seven in all, who would be appointed by the executive branch or chosen from groups with close ties to the executive.
2: Years granted for principals in media companies to divest.
47: Percent of vote that approved measure regarding divestment. (The measure passed with a plurality; some voters did not cast a vote on that question.)
45: Percent of vote that approved the creation of a regulatory council through the drafting of a communications law. (The measure passed with a plurality; some voters did not cast a vote on that question.)
El Universo executives Carlos Pérez Barriga, César Pérez Barriga, and Nicolás Pérez Barriga, along with opinion editor Emilio Palacio, were sentenced to prison and multimillion-dollar fines in July. Palacio, who resigned, later fled to the United States.