Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ecuador's New Media Laws Do Not Correlate to U.S. Criticism

Title page of the new Ecuadorian Media Laws. These laws were passed by the Ecuadorian National Assembly on June 25, 2013. As discussed below, Ecuador has faced unjustified criticism from western governments and organizations for its media laws.
The Foundation for Democratic Advancement (FDA) holds the view that public and private media should not have a free reign to print and broadcast whatever information and opinion they want. In addition, the FDA believes that public and private media should be required legally to provide broad and balanced election coverage of all registered parties (which have at least 0.5 percent popular support) during election periods (0.5 Percent Rule, 2013). The FDA believes that democratic elections are fundamentally about the voice of the people, and that public and private media are information providers during election periods (Media Election Content, 2013). To help ensure that the people make the most informed decision on Election Day, the media's election role is to provide broad and balanced coverage, rather than narrow and imbalanced coverage.

Ecuador's 2013 media laws, despite criticism from various western governments and media organizations, are consistent with the FDA's media standards. Ecuador's media laws emphasize broad and balanced election coverage through media ownership concentration laws, code of media election coverage which supports broad and balanced coverage, broad and inclusive broadcast licensing law, and responsible media content. In addition, the Council for the Regulation and Development of Communications, Ecuador's media oversight committee, is guided by the media laws. Further, Ecuadorian government surveillance on its citizens unlike in other counties must be authorized by Ecuador's independent judiciary. Furthermore, a President's decree of a State of Exception (media censorship) is only permitted during an emergency as defined by law and which is held in check by the power of the National Assembly to repeal a State of Exception at anytime. 

Legislative Research

Media Election Coverage

The media is required to provide all political movement and parties with equal conditions in debates, interview, programs, and election coverage. The National Election Council will enforce this law by encouraging media organizations to take measures to uphold equal coverage (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 72).

Radio and television licenses are distributed based on the following formula: 33 percent for public media; 33 percent for private media; and 34 percent for community media (including non-profit organization) (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 106). [Broad and diverse distribution of radio and licenses encourages a plurality of news coverage; Bolivia has a similar licensing policy.]

Private and community radio and television licenses are determined by transparent public tender (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 110).

Ownership concentration of radio and television licenses are disallowed. An individual or organization can only have one AM radio frequency, one FM radio frequency, and one frequency for television (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 113). [Limits on ownership concentration encourages pluralistic news coverage.]

A single producer on a national television channel may not have more than 25 percent of the fee schedule or procurement of the channel (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 99). 

A national production, as opposed to a single producer, must the participation of at least 80 percent of the Ecuadorian people and legal residents in its processing (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 100).

Media is forbidden to produce or publish information which smears repetitively in one or more media a natural or legal person or diminishes his or her public credibility (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 26). [Smear refers to slander.]

Related Legislative Research

Media Independence and Freedom

The public media has "editorial autonomy and independence from political power" (Organic Communications Bill, 2013 Chapter 1, Section 1, Definitions).

The objective of media is freedom of debate and opinions (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Chapter 1, Section 1, Objectives).

All Ecuadorians have freedom of expression including freedom to receive, find, produce, and disseminate information, and freedom to access information and content of any kind (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Articles 17, 24; Sections 33, 42).

Public authorities are prohibited from censoring media prior to the dissemination of any information (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 18).

Journalists have freedom to express consciousness and protections for professional secrecy and confidentiality of sources (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Section 39; Articles 40-41). 

During a state of emergency, the president can suspend freedom of expression (Ecuadorian Constitution, 2008, Title 4, Chapter 3, Section 4, Article 164). However, president's emergency decree is checked by the following:
  1. The President's decree of a State of Exception shall be in force for up to a maximum period of 60 days. If the grounds for the decree persist, it can be renewed for an additional 30 days (Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, 2008, Title 4, Chapter 3, Section 4, Article 166).
  2. The National Assembly has the power to repeal a presidential decree at any time, without detriment to any ruling about its constitutional validity that might be issued by the Constitutional Court (Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, 2008, Title 4, Chapter 3, Section 4, Article 166). 
  3. A State of Exception may observe the principles of need, proportionality, legality, temporariness, territoriality, and reasonableness. In addition, a State of Exception must indicate cause and motivation, territorial scope of application, period of duration, measures applied, rights suspended or restricted, and notifications (which are consistent with the Constitution and international treaties) (Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, 2008, Title 4, Chapter 3, Section 4, Article 164).
Checks and Balances on Council that Oversees New Media Law

Counselors of the Council for the Regulation and Development of Communications can be dismissed if he or she accepts a bribe, engages in political propaganda, violates prerequisites for council membership, or misses council session three times in a row (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Articles 51-52).

A representative of the President leads the five-member Council for the Regulation and Development of Information and Communication (Neuman and Ayala, 2013). [Therefore, the Council may be biased to the President. Yet, the Council is guided by the media laws.]

Surveillance

Unwarranted surveillance of personal communications is illegal. Ecuadorian citizens have a right to privacy (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 31).

Surveillance of personal communications is only allowed if it is authorized by an Ecuadorian judge (Organic Communications Bill, 2013, Article 31).

The Ecuadorian Judiciary is an independent branch of government. The Judiciary has administrative, economic, and financial autonomy. In addition, no other branch of government has the authority to perform duties for ordinary administration of justice (Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador, Title 4, Chapter 4, Article 168).

References

0.5 Percent Rule. (2013). Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from href="http://foundationfordemocraticadvancement.blogspot.ca/2013/04/fda-talking-points-series-05-percent.html

Burch, S. (2013, June 17). Ecuador finally has its new communications law. Latin America in Movement. Retrieved from http://alainet.org/active/64779&lang=en

Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador. (2008). Republic of Ecuador. Ecuador: Official Register. Retrieved from http://www.mmrree.gob.ec/pol_exterior/constit_eng.pdf

Organic Communications Bill (2013, June 25). Ecuadorian National Assembly. Retrieved from http://documentacion.asambleanacional.gob.ec/alfresco/d/d/workspace/SpacesStore/94ab3aff-08d5-4ad4-8839-8c6b91543b5a/Ley%20Org%C3%A1nica%20Comunicaci%C3%B3n

Media Election Content. (2013). Foundation for Democratic Advancement. Retrieved from http://foundationfordemocraticadvancement.blogspot.ca/2013/03/fda-talking-points-series-media.html

Neuman, W., Ayala, M. (2013, June 14). Ecuador legislature approves curbs on news media. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/15/world/americas/ecuador-legislature-approves-curbs-on-news-media.html?_r=1







Mr. Stephen Garvey, Executive Director Foundation for Democratic Advancement











Mr. Anthony Johnson, Researcher Foundation for Democratic Advancement

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