Ecuador’s president claims victory in controversial referendum on media regulation

The votes still are being counted, but Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa has claimed victory in a nationwide vote on 10 issues ranging from a bullfighting ban to the creation of a panel to regulate media content, CNN reports. Both the government and the opposition have suggested that there were irregularities during in the Saturday, May 7, vote, local media outlets report.

Exit polls suggested that voters passed the majority of proposals with large margins, however the race appears to be much closer than expected in the polls leading up the vote, the BBC explains.

The 10 question in the referendum included bans on casinos and bullfighting and increased power to the presidency in judicial appointments. Of specific interest to press organizations are questions that limit bank ownership of media companies and the creation of a council charged with regulating media content.

In the lead-up to the vote, Fundamedios reported that the government railed against the media’s coverage of the initiative. In a series of videos broadcast nationwide, the administration accused journalists and media outlets of functioning as members of the political opposition.

Beyond criticism from the opposition, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters without Borders (RSF) have expressed concern that the vote was simply an attack on independent media and will limit press freedom.

The Miami Herald’s Andres Oppenheimer wrote that the referendum constitutes the first time in Latin America that voters have approved a “proposal to censure the press, which will encourage government corruption.”

El Comercio reports that while the National Electoral Council has defended the accuracy of the vote, government officials have complained of massive inconsistencies and errors in the ballots. The government’s digital newspaper, El Ciudadano, says there was a “suspicious delay” in vote counting in areas that polled strongly in support of the referendum.

El Universo, an opposition newspaper that is currently being sued for libel by Correa for $80 million, said that while the government was celebrating the victory, state media barely covered the vote the following day

Correa told that AFP that the victory of the “Yes” campaign shows that the “corrupt and evil press has much to fear,” but not “the free and independent press.” “Here we have full tolerance of criticism, what we are not going to have is tolerance for lies,” he continued.

See here for an AFP video of President Correa and supporters celebrating their victory.

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.

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