Ecuadorian government proposes penalties for opinions expressed on social media

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  • September 16, 2013

By Alexa Ura*

By Alexa Ura*

The Ecuadorian government has proposed penalizing individuals who express opinions that could be considered defamatory on social media, freedom of expression non-profit Fundamedios reported.

In recent remarks to the National Assembly Justice Commission, Alexis Mera, Ecuadorian secretary of state, proposed penalizing libelous or slanderous remarks made on social media as part of a discussion on the country’s new penal code.

“I have proposed that any slanderous remarks expressed on social networks be regulated because these networks can be an instrument of impunity,” Mera said on Aug. 28. “I’ve asked the Bureau of Justice to create a special process for cases of insults on Twitter or Facebook because slander from an individual who has more than 10,000 followers can be faster and cause more damage.”

The initiative represents a shift in the Ecuadorian government’s stance on criticisms through social media, which hundreds of Ecuadorian journalists use as a primary outlet to spread information and express opinions. Up until now, the government had not made efforts to curve criticisms through these channels.

Mera’s proposal comes on the heels of a new lawsuit against the country’s controversial communications law. The lawsuit was filed by a group of 60 individuals, including journalists and politicians, just a week before the proposal for the new defamation regulation was announced.

The Organic Law on Communications, approved in June, is considered one of the country’s most restrictive laws against the press. The law created state-mandated ethical guidelines and defined social communication as a “public service,” making it susceptible to state regulation.

During his tenure, President Rafael Correa has taken several steps against the country’s private media outlets. He is known to use “descato” or “disrespect” laws to convict journalists who were publicly critical of the government.

In 2011, four employees of El Universo newspaper were sentenced to three years in jail each and fined $40 million for allegedly defaming Correa in an editorial. With the power of Ecuador’s highest court behind him, Correa has won several other defamation lawsuits.

That same year, the Committee to Protect Journalists accused Correa of turning the country into one of the most restrictive countries for the press in the Western hemisphere. The criticism was part of a report, “Confrontation, Repression in Correa’s Ecuador,” released by CPJ and Andean Group of Information Freedoms and Fundamedios.

*Alexa Ura is a student in the class "Reporting Latin America" within the College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.