A few days before the presidential and parliamentarian elections in Ecuador, which will take place on Feb. 17, fears of lawsuits and other legal liabilities are holding back journalistic coverage. According to a report by non-profit Fundamedios, which analyzed the content of 10 newspapers between Jan. 4 and 20, there have been almost no opinion, context and analysis pieces written during the campaigns season. In contrast, plain informative stories represented more than 90 percent of their content. The main protagonists were not the candidates, but the National Electoral Council, which is mentioned in 43 percent of the stories. Some journalists and freedom of expression experts believe several news outlets are trying to avoid legal problems under Ecuador’s Code of Democracy — the country’s electoral law. In January 2012, using the Code, President and re-election candidate Rafael Correa succeeded in pushing through the National Assembly new restrictions on the news coverage of the elections. The most controversial one was article 203, which called media outlets to “abstain from promoting directly or indirectly” any candidate through special reports or any other way.
After a lawsuit pushed by several journalism organizations, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court declared the article as unconstitutional but sustained the ban on any form of “direct or indirect promotion,” without specifically outlining what falls within this definition.
Diego Cornejo, president of the Ecuatorian Association of Newspaper Editors, or AEDEP, told the Knight Center that this lack of clarity regarding what constitutes “indirect promotion” represents an ambiguity in the law that has generated uncertainty among news outlets regarding what stories and topics could turn them into the targets of new lawsuits.
Several journalism organizations, like the Comittee to Protect Journalists, the Inter American Press Association and the International Press Institute, have expressed their concern regarding the restrictions on the press due the ambiguity of the law.
“The term ‘indirect promotion’ as included in Article 203 is highly subjective and leaves the door open for those who want to silence or punish critical media coverage of next month’s election,” said Anthony Mills, IPI’s deputy director.
According to the director of Fundamedios, César Ricaurte, the changes in the electoral law have had a visible effect in the coverage of the campaigns.