By Sovereign Hager
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America
QUITO, Ecuador-Human Rights Watch is calling for Ecuador’s communications bill to be amended so as not to limit freedom of expression. The proposal includes “vague language” that would limit the content of media programing. The bill is currently being debated in Ecuador’s National Assembly. Members of the Ecuadorian press have publicly protested what they consider to be a “gag bill.”
The proposed law includes provisions stating that the exercise of communication rights will be subject to prior censorship in cases “established in the constitution, in international treaties in force, and in the law.” Another provision states that the media will disseminate “primarily contents of an informative, educational, and cultural nature.”
Those in opposition to these provisions point out that Article 13 of the American Convention of Human Rights explicitly prohibits prior censorship. The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, prohibits “prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means” of communication.
Rights group are arguing for an amendment rather than that the entire legislation be scrapped because the law includes “positive measures.” These measures include a prohibition on monopolies and oligopolies in the media, subtitles or sign language to provide equal access for people with hearing disabilities, and the requirement that public bodies and private entities that manage public resources or services of this nature disclose information in their possession.
Human Rights Watch America’s Director, Miguel Vivanco argued that “an act of communication should promote rather than limit the free flow of information essential to strengthen an open debate in any democratic society.”
An especially contentious aspect of the law is the creation of the National Communication and Information Council, an eight-person body charged with overseeing the application of the law. The Council would be chaired by a presidential representative with a deciding vote.
A representative of Ecuador’s National Union of Journalists stated that the “government is looking to control every aspect of society.” One journalist argued that the new law would leave the media “subject to an endless number of sanctions.”
The International Press Institute called on Ecuador’s legislators to “exercise extreme caution” while debating the law, to ensure that local media concerns are heard and that “media freedom is not damaged.”
For more information, please see:
La Voz Libre-Human Rights Watch Critica el Proyecto de le Comunicación en Ecuador-16 December 2009
Human Rights Watch-Ecuador:Amend Draft Communications Law-15 December 2009
International Press Institute-Journalists in Ecuador Rally Against Draft Communications Law-25 November 2009
Knight Center for Journalism-Ecuador’s Disputed Media Bill Reaches Law Makers-23 November 2009