I was recently invited to comment on Rafael Correa and his relationship with the media for Al Jazeera’s Listening Post. We’ve covered the issue in Global Voices, and I wrote about Correa’s victory in the libel case against El Universo in this blog in February.
My response was recorded after Correa announced he would pardon the journalists involved in the El Universo libel case and drop the case against two other journalists for their book ‘Big Brother.’
The pardon put an artificial “end” to this battle between Correa and the media, but press freedom is likely to continue its decline in Ecuador. Carlos Lauría from the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Correa is following the steps of other Latin American leaders (including Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua) who use state media and other means to discredit journalists.
But let’s look beyond traditional media: How does this atmosphere affect Ecuadorian citizen journalists, bloggers, and netizens in general? Will netizens that criticize the Ecuadorian government receive cyber-attacks and harassment like we’ve seen in Venezuela? The two cases set a very negative precedent (as I point out in the video), not just for freedom of the press, but for freedom of expression in general.
Watch the whole show below, click here to watch the segment on Correa and the media, or click here to skip to my comment.
On Thursday, February 16, Ecuador’s highest court upheld a verdict favoring President Rafael Correa in a libel case against newspaper El Universo. The original libel suit was triggered by an opinion column written by journalist Emilio Palacio. As Milton Ramirez reported in a previous post for Global Voices:
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called the verdict a, “bad precedent for free press in the Americas.” Furthermore, Senior Americas Program Coordinator Carlos Lauría declared: “It is outrageous that Ecuador’s leading newspaper may go bankrupt and its directors be imprisoned because they published an opinion column that harshly criticized the president.”
Ecuadorian netizens have also expressed their outrage. Lawyer and avid Twitter user Pablo Garzón published a series of tweets on Thursday, February 16:
@pgarzon: In your house, with your friends, let them know that the El Universo case was not a fair trial, basic rules and procedures were violated
@pgarzon: If you didn’t read El Universo, if you don’t like Emilio Palacio, it doesn’t matter. Now they can commit the same offense against any newspaper, understand it!
@bmayorga Mediation when both sides want to negotiate, that was not the case this time
On Thursday night, a peaceful protest (“plantón” in Spanish) was held in Quito, the capital, to reject the verdict against El Universo. Gabriela Fajardo (@GabyFajardo) shared several photos of the protest on Twitter (1, 2, 3), as did Roberto V. (@robvillavicencio).
A precedent for Ecuadorian justice has been set … it was about time that they stop these mediocre journalists we have in our media, certainly not all, but most are not independent [and] only look after their interests. Too bad that in our country we have lawyers who try to defend the indefensible, crafty, vile mercenaries who seek money by any trick to get away with what they want. Justice in Ecuador has been inaugurated.
Finally, blogger Silvana Tapia from Lunas Azules [es] wrote a lengthy post on the judicial and penal law aspects of the case. She concludes:
As a lawyer, as a scholar of criminal law, as a mother, as a teacher and as a woman, I reject the break with human rights that has been perpetrated by the Ecuadorian justice, and that will worsen with the legal projects [es] currently under discussion. Our innovative and humanistic Constitution, who many of us voted for, and in which we still believe, contains all the tools necessary to ensure the real validity of human rights, but for now it is just a book of white pages placed on a shelf.
Update: Global Voices contributor Milton Ramirez wrote an excellent post on the case. Read it in Spanish here.