During the three years since the enforcement and application of the Organic Law of Communication (LOC) in Ecuador, lack of transparency has been a constant. Denials, evasions, disorganization and obstacles are part of the modus operandi for the Superintendency of Information & Communication (Supercom) and different zonal municipalities when providing information on media sanctions, according to a complaint filed by Fundamedios.
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According to the organization which defends freedom of expression in Ecuador, this lack of transparency has impeded a thorough monitoring of the LOC. It has also prevented citizens from fully understanding the extent of the massacre that has been perpetrated under abusive and arbitrary application of legislation which violates all standards of protection of freedom of expression.
Prior to June 14, 2016, Fundamedios recorded a total of 554 legal cases against media outlets, of which 398 ended in sanctions. Of these, 55% (220) incurred financial penalties; 27% (107) written warnings; and 11% (45) public apologies. These statistics evidence the harassment of the press and the risk that these fines represent for the economic stability of media companies.
Private media outlets have been sanctioned most frequently. Top of the list is the daily newspaper La Hora, which has accumulated a total of 17 penalties, followed by Canal UNO with 16; the daily newspaper Extra with 15; radio station Fútbol FM with 11; and local channel Cayambe Vision Channel 9 with seven penalties. The latter represents persecution by a local authority, since all complaints against the channel were filed by the now former mayor of Cayambe, William Perugachi. Meanwhile, only seven known sanctions have been issued against State-controlled media: four to TC; one each to Gama TV and Ecuador TV; and one to El Telégrafo.
Indeed, the LOC is most frequently implemented by public officials and Supercom, who together filed 73% (290) of the complaints analyzed between October 2013 and April 2016. The remaining 27% (108%) were filed by citizens.
During these three years, Article 28 of the LOC has been the most commonly used. 17% (67) of complaints reference this article, which relates to copies of programs or printed material. Other articles frequently referred to in complaints relate to ethical standards, 15% (60); honor, 6% (22); rectification, 5% (20); and others 57% (229).
After three years, it is clear that media outlets are the main victims of the LOC. How can we forget the sanctioning of the cartoonist Bonil and the daily newspaper El Universo on January 31, 2014, when Supercom issued a fine equivalent to 2% of the paper’s average turnover over the last three months and demanded the correction of a cartoon?
If this seemed unlikely, the months which followed saw an increasing number of sanctions of even greater absurdity. It should not be forgotten that Supercom has sanctioned media outlets for “not preventing disease”; for comments made by a listener on the air (Radio Novedades, March 2015); for talking about “threesomes” and “lovers” during family scheduling; for telling jokes about Chinese people that could be considered discriminatory (Radio Fútbol FM, 2015, 2016); and for “refraining from publishing intercultural content.” The latter accusation has resulted in several media outlets being fined 10% of turnover averaged over the last three months. The list of LOC sanctions is endless.
With the regulatory body lacking independence when considering cases and issuing penalties, more than one media company has declared itself in resistance, including the newspapers El Universo and La Hora.