Ecuador: media under attack?

From Reporters Without Borders (RSF), via the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), July 6:

RSF deplores President Rafael Correa’s verbal attacks on the press and above all his decision not to give any more news conferences. The aggressivity of some of the news media towards him is undeniable, but he should try to defuse the tension between the press and the government, RSF said.

“Yes, Ecuadorean society is very polarised and, yes, President Correa’s political and constitutional reform programme has elicited scathing reactions from the media, but this situation will only get worse if the president decides to boycott the press after stepping up his attacks on it,” RSF said.

“Accepting high political office means exposing oneself to criticism and being held accountable to public opinion,” RSF added. “We still believe in the possibility of dialogue and we call on the president to reverse his decision not to give any more news conferences. An empty-chair policy is the worst of all solutions.”

After describing certain media as “mediocre, corrupt and mendacious,” Correa acknowledged on 10 June 2007 that he had “made mistakes” in his clashes with the press. But then he went back on the attack. On 25 June, referring to the constituent assembly that will be appointed on 30 September, he called for “strong laws” in the area of communications and said “in Latin America’s history, the press has always been against progressive governments.”

He again laid into the media three days later after they reported a poll that gave his government a 63 percent favourable rating, as against a Cedatos-Gallup poll with an 80 percent positive rating, and he cited former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s use of the term “feral beasts” to refer to journalists.

After often publicly criticising journalists in the past for being too pushy, Correa triggered an outcry from the media and journalists’ organisations when he referred to Sandra Ochoa, of the daily “El Universo”, as a “horrible little fatty” and accused her of “rudeness.”

As well, in a 24 May letter to RSF, he confirmed that he would not withdraw the “public insult” complaint he brought against Francisco Vivanco, the editor of the daily “La Hora”, which means Vivanco will continue to face the possibility of a two-year prison sentence and a heavy fine (see IFEX alert of 14 May 2007).

To avoid more incidents of this kind in the future, President Correa announced that he would no longer give any news conferences and would in future respond to the news media “in writing.” His Argentine counterpart, Néstor Kirchner, who is also at odds with certain news media, has never given a news conference since becoming president in 2003.

See our last post on Ecuador.