Monday, June 17, 2013

Ecuador Passes Controversial Media Reform Law

While privately owned media in Ecuador are highly critical of a media reform law passed last week, the government and indigenous rights advocates argue that it will contribute to a more pluralist media landscape in the country.

On Friday June 14, Ecuador’s National Assembly passed a controversial new media law. It was supported by 108 of 137 votes, all but eight of which came from President Rafael Correa’s Alianza Pais party, El Telegrafo reports.

The Correa government has framed the law as a necessary move to “democratize” the media in Ecuador. According to Alianza Pais, it is geared towards giving the right of access to information back to Ecuadoreans, which had been “taken away by the media monopoly.”

Most of the major media outlets in the country are privately-owned and aligned with the opposition, and as such are highly critical of the president. He has long accused the private media of spreading disinformation about him and his policies, famously going so far as to pursue a multi-million dollar libel suit against two of his critics in the press, although he later pardoned them.  

Under the new law, the government will create a “Media Regulation Council,” which will be tasked with setting standards for television, online, radio and print media content. It will also establish a new organism to monitor these standards, the Office of Information and Communication, which will fine those media outlets found to be out of compliance.

On Sunday, the Ecuadorean Association of Newspaper Editors (AEDEP) published an editorial in its affiliated newspapers criticizing the “suffocating” nature of the bill. According to AEDEP, “[t]his is a law that will set up a propaganda state in the country and deprive citizens of freedom of expression and the right of access to information; it will make these state functions.”

Advocacy groups, both local and international, have criticized the law as well. Ecuadorean press freedom foundation Fundamedios characterized it as “contrary to the Constitution and international human rights instruments,” and accused the government of setting up mechanisms of editorial censorship. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists claims the law gives the government “the power to impose arbitrary sanctions and censor the press.”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) takes a more balanced view of the media law. According to RSF, it amounts to a “mix of good principles and bad provisions,” asserting that despite its contentious specifics, the measure has praiseworthy goals. Among these is its call for a redistribution of broadcast frequencies. According to Reuters, the law will allocate 33 percent of frequencies to state media, 33 percent to private broadcasters and 34 percent for indigenous groups. The law will not, however, revoke any existing licenses to radio and television networks, and no outlets will be shut down. RSF refers to this as a “powerful lever for media pluralism.”

The New York Times reports that the law also prohibits “media lynching,” or the dissemination of information meant to smear someone’s or attack one’s character. It also bans content that incites violence or promotes racial or religious hatred.

Because of its anti-discrimination language, as well as its calls for redistribution of frequencies, the law has the full support of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), the country’s largest indigenous organization.

News Briefs

  • On the heels of a major protest against bus fare hikes in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, this weekend saw the outbreak of demonstrations against the high cost of hosting the World Cup in Brasilia and Rio. Reuters reports that around 500 protesters were tear-gassed by police in Brasilia on Saturday, and roughly 600 demonstrators clashed with police in Rio yesterday, both protests occurring outside of stadiums in the Confederations Cup. Writing for Folha de Sao Paulo, Vincent Bevins provides some context for the demonstrations, which are fueled by widespread anger at the rising cost of living and lagging public services in the face of major state investments like the World Cup and Olympics. Americas Quarterly’s Catherine Osborn reports that students make up a large portion of protestors, and notes their effective use of social media to broadcast messages.
  • With decriminalizing and legalizing marijuana gaining acceptance as a legitimate drug policy alternative in the region, Mexico’s leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) appears poised to join the curve. Spain’s El Pais reports that the PRD in Mexico City (where they are the main political power) is drafting a bill to decriminalize personal marijuana use and possession in the capital, although this goes against federal law. According to progressive news site Sin Emargo, the bill would also allow the domestic cultivation of cannabis plants for personal consumption, and will be introduced in September. This comes after former conservative President Vicente Fox, who has expressed support for marijuana legalization in the past, said publicly that he would personally grow marijuana if it were legal in the country.
  • The Peruvian Ombudsman’s Office (Defensoria del Pueblo) has filed a legal challenge to a controversial decree issued in March by the armed forces which reinstated a military draft in the country. According to La Republica, the ombudsman believes the decree unfairly targets poor and uneducated Peruvians, and hopes to stop it from taking effect on June 19 as planned.
  • While Paraguay continues to press for reintegration into Mercosur following its expulsion in response to the June 2012 impeachment of President Fernando Lugo, it is believed that Brazil will condition Paraguay’s return on acknowledging Venezuela’s membership. Venezuela officially joined Mercosur in July 2012, after previous attempts to join the bloc were shot down by Paraguay’s Congress, which refused to ratify a bill allowing Venezuela’s membership. Now it seems that there may not be much potential for change on this front. After visiting with Mercosur counterparts in Uruguay last week, one of the chief policy advisors to Paraguayan president-elect Horacio Cartes has told reporters: “Venezuela is not part of Mercosur, this was not ratified by Paraguay’s Congress.”
  • The New York Times reports that Judge Lourdes Afiuni, who was imprisoned under the Chavez government on suspicious grounds, has been freed after a Caracas court ordered her release.
  • Honduras’ LIBRE party has officially nominated Xiomara Castro, the wife of deposed former President Manuel Zelaya, as its candidate ahead of elections next November, La Prensa and the AP report. According to Castro, her first official act if elected will be to call a national constituent assembly to propose changes to allow for more popular participation n government.
  • The World Bank has released a new report on economic development in Latin American and the Caribbean, “Shifting Gears to Accelerate Shared Prosperity” (.pdf). In it, the researchers note that bigger steps must be taken to address poverty and inequality in the region, as “at current trends, it won’t be until 2052 that the average Latin American citizen achieves the standard of living that citizens in high-income countries had in 2000.”
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is set to meet with Pope Francis I today, his first visit to Europe since being elected president. El Nacional reports that Maduro hopes to speak with the pontiff on issues of crime, poverty and drugs, and will present him with images of Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez as gifts.
  • Al-Jazeera English’s Inside Story Americas features an interesting overview of food shortages in Venezuela, which have spiked just as Venezuela receives praise for from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization for achieving the Millenium Development Goal of halving the number of people suffering from malnutrition. The clip features a panel discussion amongst Venezuela experts Greg Wilpert, Miguel Tinker Salas, and David Smilde on the economic, administrative and political factors behind food shortages in the country.
  • The Wall Street Journal features an essay by David Luhnow on class barriers and the perception of rich youth in Mexico. Known as “juniors,” Luhnow writes that their “love of brand names is surpassed only by their sense of entitlement,” though recent cultural changes suggest this is changing. 

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