Ecuador’s President Attacks US Over Press Freedom Critique
Critics say Correa is creating a pro-government media system; Correa says there is a fundamental contradiction with corporate for-profit media involved in distributing public information
OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: A new diplomatic impasse between Ecuador and the U.S. came to be on May 3, the day the world celebrates freedom of the press, when Adam Namm, U.S. ambassador in Quito, attended Ecuador’s National Journalists Union’s anniversary ceremony and demanded protection for the press in Ecuador.
Many wonder, is this about Freedom of the Press or is it a rather political confrontation?
Adam Namm, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service participated by writing on a wall already full of political cartoons, “The only security for all of us, is in free press” as Thomas Jefferson wrote to Lafayette in 1823.
ADAM NAMM, U.S. AMBASSADOR IN ECUADOR (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): The duty of a government to protect free press is very important in a democracy.
LEÓN: This act of support to the press by the U.S. ambassador was interpreted by Rafael Correa as a direct defy by Namm, this because just one day before, on May 2, Ecuador’s president had declared his rejection of a public declaration by U.S. Department of State official Patrick Ventrella. Just a few days before, Ventrella had also called for protection for the Ecuadorian press: “We are a sovereign country, not a colony.” He then continued, “We will in turn ask for the U.S. to protect Bradley Manning and Guantanamo’s inmates.”
A few days later, on his weekly Radio and TV Show, Rafael Correa said:
RAFAEL CORREA, ECUADORIAN PRESIDENT (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Don’t come lecturing us about liberty. You need a reality check. Don’t act like a spoiled rude child. Here you will only find dignity and sovereignty. Here we haven’t invaded anyone. Here we don’t torture like in Guantanamo. Here we don’t have drones killing alleged terrorist without any due trial, killing also the women and children of those supposed terrorists. So don’t come lecturing us about life, law, dignity, or liberty. You don’t have the moral right to do so.
LEÓN: Ecuador’s foreign secretary, Raul Patiño, met with the ambassador and issued a formal complaint.
Adam Namm was supporting the members of Ecuador’s Journalist Union who have been protesting for some time now, demanding a real “freedom of the press”, accusing threats, public ridicule, libel lawsuits like the one against the El Universo newspaper. In that case, Emilio Palacio the journalist and the newspaper were fined $40 million for defaming the President by accusing him of “ordering the public forces to open fire on a live crowd” [snip] his rescue from a Police mutiny on September 30, 2010. However, despite these graves accusations never proven real, Rafael Correa later on pardoned the neswspaper and didn’t collect the fine.
JANETH HINOSTROZA, TV SHOW HOST, JOURNALIST (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Mr. President, Mr President. Would you comment in this information?
CORREA: I wont be given any statements today. Please, ma’am, don’t be rude and let me pass.
Guard, please clear the way.
PALACE GUARD: Excuse me, Mrs., please.
LEÓN: The latest round in this fight, the one that ended with a diplomatic scuffle, somehow started with an alleged public persecution to three journalists particularly critic of the administration–Janet Hinostroza from Teleamazonas, Miguel Rivadeneira from Ecuador Radio, and Martin Pallares from El Comercio. Their names and many others’ are mentioned in a report by Human Rights Watch about freedom of the press in Ecuador.
We spoke with Martin Pallares, a political editorialist working in Ecuador’s biggest private newspaper. Because of his criticism, President Correa is particularly at odds with Pallares.
MARTIN PALLARES, SENIOR POLITICAL EDITOR, EL COMERCIO NEWSPAPER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): I think freedom of press in Ecuador is gravely threatened by a system managed by the government. They have the objective to discredit the media, affect their credibility. And they also want to characterize the press like political adversaries and destabilization agents.
LEÓN: Pallares agues that a vast apparatus, including two TV networks, many radios, newspapers, and even social media are used to repeat Correa’s words, generating a climate of intimidation against some journalists working in private networks.
PALLARES: Another aspect of this, and a very grave one, are the threats, especially coming from a government that has blurred the division of powers. The legislative and judicial powers are controlled by the executive, so now us journalists have to be careful of not saying anything that can be interpreted as moral damage to any public functionary, or it could end up in a lawsuit.
LEÓN: The balance in the control over the media has definitely changed since Correa took power. Before him, out of seven private networks, five were owned by banks.
After a law was passed to prevent banks from owning media networks, those TV networks where purchased by private business interest, and in some cases by the government, and now there are four public networks and only three private ones. None of these belong to a bank, but two of them remain in the opposition ranks.
According to some journalists, like Orlando Perez from EL Telegrafo, a public newspaper, Ecuador is at its golden age when it comes to the press, not only because there are checks and balances, but also because there is a great number of public media companies.
ORLANDO PEREZ, SENIOR EDITOR, EL TELEGRAFO NEWSPAPER (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): Freedom of press right now, under these circumstances and this political context, is experiencing perhaps its best time. I believe that this is a great opportunity to analyze the adequate use of mass communication.
On the other hand, speaking more broadly about media, I think not only in Ecuador but all around the world there is a profound crisis of credibility for big media, whether it is because they represent international corporations and its economic interests, or maybe because they have entered a dynamic of confrontation with some governments. The surge of alternative means of information prevents now the monopoly big media used to have.
LEÓN: President Correa has been active and outspoken in this occasional “battle” against big media groups.
CORREA: I can say that a lot of other presidents complain in private about the excesses of the press. Some of them think is better to put up with it, because it’ll be worse if you don’t.
I am ready to put up a fight because I believe that better that constructing roads, hospitals, and schools is to construct the truth. Lies had destroyed Latin America. People lie too much, from the press, the politicians, and on the street.
I think one of the main problems around the world is that there are private networks in the communication business, for-profit business providing public information, which is very important for society. It is a fundamental contradiction.
ANA PASTOR, JOURNALIST (SUBTITLED TRANSL.): It may be a contradiction, but we should be able to have all kinds of media. I guess you defend that principle.
CORREA: Yes, but I think there should be more public and community media, organizations that don’t have that conflict between profits and social communication. What do you think happens when TV shows have to criticize a bank that owns or fund them? Which would prevail, public or private interest?
PASTOR: Well, in some cases professionalism.
CORREA: No. That is your wish as a journalist, but the owners of the business would end up imposing their will towards profits. That is what happened to us at the beginning of our term. Please let us all understand what goes on in Latin America. Out of the seven TV Networks in Ecuador, five used to belong to the banks. When we wanted to regulate the banks to avoid executive malpractices and an eventual crisis like the one now taking place here in Spain, we used to have all the TV networks against us. There is a conflict of interest.
LEÓN: On October 8, 2012, Ana Pastor, the journalist interviewing Correa for TVE, the Spanish public network, was fired along with many other well-known journalists by the board installed by the new conservative Rajoy administration after she asked some uncomfortable questions to popular conservative party officials.
If the media “arena” is really a “battle for the will of the people”, then President Rafael Correa is apparently winning the fight, conquering election after election. A majority of Ecuadorian people do support him, and many think he does the right thing by “getting back” at the big media. For people in the U.S. it might be hard to imagine President Obama going after Fox News week after week, but then again, United States didn’t have three coups and ten presidents in 11 years like Ecuador did before Correa took power in 2007. This might explain why Correa is adamant in his critique against the privately owned media outlets.
It is ironic that this diplomatic dispute between U.S. and Ecuador around freedom of the press takes place at a time when the Obama administration seized phone records of the Associated Press.
I am Oscar León for The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.