|With El Niño-induced flooding, plunging oil prices, a currency
devaluation, riots, and a lively political campaign in which former Quito
Mayor Jamil Mahuad defeated banana mogul Alvaro Noboa for the presidency,
there has been no shortage of news. And for the most part, journalists say
they were able to report it without hindrance.
The most serious incident occurred in February after the Quito daily
Hoy published a story alleging that an advisor to interim President
Fabián Alarcón had diverted aid donated to flood victims. Pedro
Castro, a local politician in the port city of Guayaquil, led a rock-throwing
mob in an attack on the newspaper's local bureau. Alarcón, who took
over as president in February 1997 after Congress removed President Abdal´
Bucaram for "mental incompetence," was replaced by Mahuad in August.
After taking office, Mahuad immediately negotiated an end to Ecuador's
long-standing border dispute with Peru. Journalists from Hoy,
which supported the peace initiative, say they received a series of threatening
phone calls and letters from readers angered by their coverage.
While defamation is a criminal offense in Ecuador punishable by up to three
years in prison, no journalists were prosecuted during 1998. Efforts to reform
the press law have been hampered by divisions within the press corps between
those favoring mandatory licensing of journalists and those who oppose it.