Journalists and civil society organizations in Ecuador create Democratic Group to reformulate communications law

Journalists, lawyers, academics and human rights activists from Ecuador have announced the formation of the Democratic Group for the Reforms of the Organic Law of Communication (LOC).

According to a manifesto published by the Andean Foundation for the Observation and Study of Media (Fundamedios), one of the organizations promoting the creation of the Democratic Group, in the last decade Ecuador has suffered the greatest deterioration of its freedoms and fundamental rights.

With more than 2,000 verbal, judicial and physical assaults against the press recorded in the last ten years, according to the document, the creation and application of the LOC "was the turning point for Ecuador to be considered one of the countries with the worst situations of fundamental freedoms in the Western Hemisphere. "

From June 25, 2013 –when the communications law went into effect– to June 2017, the Superintendency of Information and Communication (Supercom) that was created by the law opened 1,081 cases against media and journalists, according to a 2017 study carried out by Fundamedios. Of the total cases opened, 675 ended in sanctions that required processed journalists to make corrections, provide space for responses, deliver program copies, pay public sanctions, comply with administrative measures, among others.

One of the most controversial aspects of the law is that of media lynching. According to the legislation, it is "the concerted and reiterative dissemination of information, directly or through third parties, through the media aimed at discrediting a natural or legal person, or reducing their public credibility."

During a press conference held last week in both Quito and Guayaquil, representatives of the Democratic Group explained that what they seek is for the LOC to become a propositive law, which generates the development of strong and competitive media that can face the challenges of the digitalization of communication, Fundamedios reported.

The group "takes the (new) President of the Republic at his word," that without freedom of expression there is no democracy, Francisco Rocha, director of the Ecuadorian Association of Newspaper Publishers (Aedep), said at the conference, according to Ecuadorian site La Hora. Aedep is another of the organizations that is part of the initiative

"We want to build a Law that promotes rights. It is indispensable that the Law of Communication be looked at from the public, private sector and from the citizenry," Rocha said, according to Fundamedios.

For César Ricaurte, executive director of Fundamedios, some of the important points that must be modified in the LOC are the media lynching, prior censorship by omission and the body created by it, Supercom, La Hora reported. Regarding Supercom, Ricaurte said it should be "replaced by an independent, collegiate and technical body."

In addition to Ricaurte of Fundamedios and Rocha of AEDEP, other participating organizations of the democratic group and their representatives are: Luis Vedesoto, academic and president of the Platform for Democracy and Human Rights; José Najas, director of Radio Sucesos; Susana Piedra, president of the National Federation of Journalists (Fenape); Thalía Flores, journalist and correspondent in Ecuador of Diario ABC of Spain; Guadalupe Fierro, president of the National Union of Journalists (UNP); Tania Tinoco, journalist and director of the investigative program Visión 360 of Ecuavisa; Daniela Salazar, lawyer and human rights defender and professor at the San Francisco de Quito University (USFQ), among others.

The formation of this group coincides with the appointment of the new head of the National Secretariat of Communication (Secom), as part of the first cabinet changes of the government of Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno, elected in May 2017, El Comercio reported.

The new head of Secom, Andrés Michelena, journalist and close adviser to Moreno for years, said during a press conference upon taking office on Feb. 21 that his goal is to make the Secom an "open door" body, reported the site El Telégrafo.

"The President was the first driver and promoter of moving towards a reform of the Law of Communication," Michelena said, according to La Hora.

According to Fundamedios, the democratic group that aims to reformulate the law was created within the framework of the Roadmap for Freedom of Expression 2017-2019.

The roadmap was proposed exactly one year ago, in February 2017, with the aim of recovering freedom of expression in Ecuador and facing the presidential and congressional elections held in May 2017 in that country. Its authors were journalists, lawyers, academics, journalistic and opinion leaders, businessmen, students, and other important actors of civil society.

The LOC, which was approved in 2013 by former President Rafael Correa (2007-2017), is considered by several national and international organizations as one of the most negative communication laws in the American continent, in terms of freedom of expression and information.

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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