from The New York Times..
By William Neuman and Maggy Ayala
June 14, 2013
When President Rafael Correa of Ecuador won re-election this year, and for the first time captured a majority in the National Assembly, he vowed to push forward with major proposals that had been stalled in his earlier terms. On Friday he gained a victory that he had long coveted when the Legislature passed a law regulating the news media, which he says will force news organizations to act fairly and which opponents say will quash freedom of expression.
“The perspective for the media and the practice of journalism is very difficult,” said José Hernández, an adjunct director of Hoy, a newspaper in Ecuador’s capital, Quito. “It has been turned into a field full of land mines where no one can work with freedom and confidence.”
But Gabriela Rivadeneira, the president of the National Assembly and an ally of Mr. Correa, said the law would promote more balanced news coverage.
“Let there be no doubt that there are rights for everyone and not just for a privileged group, which is what is wanted by some opposition legislators or the mercantilist press that has commercialized information,” Ms. Rivadeneira said.
Mr. Correa, a leftist who has promoted social programs, was re-elected by a wide margin in February when voters also gave him his first legislative majority, with 100 of the 137 seats in the National Assembly. Mr. Correa began his new term last month, and one of his priorities was to pass the so-called Communication Law, which had been stalled in the previous Legislature because his party, Alianza País, was in the minority.
On Friday the Legislature took up the law without debating its contents and it passed easily. It is packed with controversial measures. The law creates a Superintendency of Information and Communication, with the power to regulate the news media, investigate possible violations and impose potentially hefty fines. It creates a five-member Council for the Regulation and Development of Information and Communication, led by a representative of the president, to oversee the news media.
The law prohibits “media lynching,” which it defines as the repeated publication or broadcast of information intended to smear a person’s reputation or reduce one’s credibility. And it bans content that incites violence or promotes racial or religious hatred.
Carlos Lauría of the Committee to Protect Journalists, a group that promotes press freedom, said the wording of such measures was vague enough that it left ample room to define a variety of content as being in violation of the law, opening the door to censorship.
“This is the latest step in the deterioration of press freedom in this country that has occurred under Correa,” Mr. Lauría said. “This law, if it’s put into practice, is not only going to undermine the ability of journalists to report critically, but it also threatens the rights of citizens to be informed on issues like corruption or other sensitive issues.”
Mr. Correa has long campaigned against what he says is a biased news media. He has clashed with reporters, sometimes suing them for what he has called biases or errors. His government has been known to interrupt critical news coverage on television by forcing stations to broadcast rebuttals.
William Neuman reported from New York, and Maggy Ayala from Quito, Ecuador.