Friday, July 22nd 2011 - 02:04 UTC

International press blasts Ecuadorian court libel suit ruling on freedom of expression

The International Press Institute (IPI) blasted an Ecuadorian court’s decision to jail a journalist and three executives of critical opposition daily El Universo for libeling President Rafael Correa, and to impose 40 million dollars in fines against the defendants and the newspaper.

President Correa wins first round against the corrupt “assassins of ink”

A court in Guayaquil on Wednesday sentenced columnist Emilio Palacio and the three executives to three years in prison stemming from Palacio’s 6 February, 2011 article questioning an army raid to rescue Correa from striking policemen last September. The court also fined the four defendants a total of 30 million, and fined the newspaper 10 million.

The Associated Press reported that attorney Alembert Vera, who represented Correa, praised the ruling as a blow in favor of responsible journalism.

“From now on any citizen can demand that their good name and honor be respected, which is true freedom of expression,” he said.

Palacio told reporters that the sentence was “a monstrosity” and he vowed to appeal.

IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said: “We are outraged by the court’s sentence, and we condemn it as completely out of proportion to the ‘crime’ committed. Civil remedies are both sufficient to deal with allegations of defamation and more in line with international standards that correctly call for the least restrictive sanctions in such cases. The excessive nature of Wednesday’s sentence demonstrates the continuing need in Latin America and around the world to eliminate archaic – and illegitimate – criminal defamation laws.”

Bethel McKenzie also criticized Correa’s decision to pursue the matter through criminal proceedings, commenting: “As president, he has placed himself squarely in the public eye. Leaders must be open to both praise and criticism. You can’t have the glory without the headaches.”

Palacio’s 6 February article, titled “No to the Lies”, referred to Correa as “the Dictator” and it insinuated that the president was guilty of crimes against humanity for having “ordered discretionary fire – without prior notification – against a hospital full of civilians and innocent people” during a 30 September police revolt over government plans to cut police benefits.

Officers protesting the cuts tear-gassed Correa after he confronted them, and they trapped him inside a police hospital which they surrounded for more than 12 hours. Soldiers rescued the president, but several people were killed or injured in the unrest, which Correa has insisted was a coup attempt.

Correa has had a rocky relationship with the press since he first took office in 2007, referring to journalists on multiple occasions as “irresponsible”, “corrupt” and “assassins of ink”. In March, he filed a 10 million lawsuit against two investigative journalists based on their book investigating contracts between Correa’s brother and the state.

The president also upset press freedom advocates this year when he added to a 7 May 12 points referendum a proposal to create a government council to regulate media content, and to bar “private national media companies, executives, and main shareholders” from holding assets in other companies. The measure – supposedly aimed at curbing “media excesses” – was approved by voters.

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1 mgw123 (#) Jul 22nd, 2011 - 05:25 pm Report abuse
Palacio is a courageous, talented jounalist who should be admired and supported by honest citizens and politicians of his country. President Correa, on the other hand, deserves the press he gets, and probably should be impeached, or otherwise removed from office.
2 Forgetit87 (#) Jul 22nd, 2011 - 06:30 pm Report abuse
Stay put, Mr. Correa. We the nationalists of South American countries know how much the local media, in silent alliance with financial capital, have targeted pro-people administations and movements with that same sanctimonious hysteria they attacked you with. Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela: in all of those countries media moguls conflate the 'right' to defame left-of-center leaderships with freedom of speech. This same tactic has been used in a recent past to take down our leaders and install a climate of instability that ultimately leads to right-wing military regimes: at which point, however, the journalists in the MSM and their bosses - those who now portray themselves as heroes of freedom of expression - are more than happy to serve as the maids of dictators.
3 Sergio Vega (#) Jul 23rd, 2011 - 01:45 am Report abuse
2@ just the words that anyone could expect from a redhat more to say, porkgetit !!!
1@ clever words......
4 Forgetit87 (#) Jul 23rd, 2011 - 02:44 am Report abuse
Lol :)
5 jerry (#) Jul 23rd, 2011 - 05:07 am Report abuse
#3 - I may not agree with all your comment (do not get peersonal), but I agree with the context of your statement.
6 ElaineB (#) Jul 23rd, 2011 - 11:14 am Report abuse
The idea that newspapers have the power to significantly change the views of the voting public is false. A free press should challenge government and authority.

The public are not forced to purchase and read newspapers. They have a choice and exercise that choice by reading newspapers that are sympathetic to their political leanings. In other words, the media is simply satisfying a ready made audience.

Thin-skinned politicians are forever blaming the press for holding them to account but if their government was without blame and popular with the voters, they would have nothing to fear from being challenged.

Restricting the press should be a red-flag to anyone wishing to live in a free society.
7 Forgetit86 (#) Jul 23rd, 2011 - 06:47 pm Report abuse
You know nothing about the countries I mentioned in my previous post. In them, media ownership is concentrated in the hands of some few rich family, and there usually isn't big competitors to the views they promote. They don't have a left-wing newspaper that can serve to counterbalance the wide right-wing bias prevalent in other newspapers and TV chanels. We don't have a The Guardian. As a result, people are exposed to only one worldview. And such an environment does exert influence on people's views. Read Alfred Stepan's “The Military in Politics”, more specifically chapter 5, “A Comparative Analysis of Five Coups”, which gives an account on how support by civilian elites, and more specially by newspapers, was vital for the 1st president of the Brazilian military regime to maintain stability and a relative degree of political legitimacy.

You can try and explain away Correa's actions as coming down to hypersensitivity. But he's being rational. Recent history has shown us - us who genuinely know our countries' history, not some holier than thou foreigner trying to lecture us how democracies are supposed to be managed - it has shown us, as I was about to say, that confronting intellectual frauds and brown journalism - journalism produced by certain social sectors and commited to their interests - is essential to maitaining political stability.

Giving newspapers freedom to lie and libel under the excuse that no one's forced to consume their information, opens the door for abuses, not only against politicians you dislike, but also against ordinary people. And you shouldn't forget either that most western European countries do have media regulation laws that oversee such things as media ownership: something they see as essential to affording their constituents a varied and balanced coverage of domestic and world issues. But if media should be left untouched because no one's forced to consume them, why bother about who owns it and to what extent, as you country does?
8 mgw123 (#) Jul 24th, 2011 - 03:27 pm Report abuse
Free societies promote “freedom of the press” because “ordinary” people can read, think, ask questions, and decide for themselves what is true and what is not.
You, Mr. Forgetit 87, are suggesting that ordinary people do not have the ability to decide what is right or wrong, and should not be allowed to read news or viewpoints that do not agree with yours (or President Correa's).
Elaine B., above, is correct in stating that “restricting the press should be a red flag for anyone wishing to live in a free country.”
There is a saying that states“ know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” When “ordinary” people know the truth, they can promote good government, and abolish corruption, if it exists. This is what Mr. Palacio was attempting to do; tell the truth so the people can act responsibly and get rid of the corruption, if they choose.
By censoring the truth, you, Mr. Forgetit 87, and your president have essentially convicted yourselves. If you were not guilty, you would not fear the truth, as described by Mr. Palacio.
9 Forgetit87 (#) Jul 24th, 2011 - 07:37 pm Report abuse
Most often we only have a chance at forming an accurate perception or making an informed choice when we're presented with real facts. People's perception on their government is not first-hand. For example, no one sees by himself the corrupt congressman or cabinet member manipuating public resources into his own bank account. Our perception is instead modeled by media presentation of the facts. And since the media, in Ecuador as in many other South American countries, is inclined to spin their coverage against certain social and political groups and in favour of others - it seems plausible to believe people's perception would be deformed as a result. Have in mind that South Americans aren't exposed to many different ideologies since a large number of us can only keep informed about our nations' history and current affairs by resorting to big media oulets, most of which are keen to promote the interests of financial capital and oppose reformist leaders. You can, in populistic fashion, deconstruct what I'm saying as implying that people are incapable of forming their own opinions by themselves. But whatever, I know what I'm saying isn't implausible and can actually be verified in everyday life and by studying the literature about our history.
10 Dexter (#) Jul 29th, 2011 - 01:03 am Report abuse
The media, at least here in the US, does not present news in a neutral and nonpartisan way as to allow ordinary folks to absorb the information and create opinion of their own. News Stations present the stories with commentaries in such a way as to form already an individual's opinion to align with their particular ideology. Folks tend to take those anchors' commentaries like scriptures from the bible and it greatly influences their perception of events and of others who do not necessarily view things as they do.

Then, there is the whole shady business of Politicians cornering media monguls for their support in elections. During elections, Foxnews literally becomes a propaganda station for Republican and MSNNBC vice-versa for Democrats. I'm assuming President Correa has been dealing with the Media being a constant propaganda machine against him. I don't support that. The Media shouldn't be deciding opinions of people. If the media presented stories factually and neutrally, then I would support no restrictions on them. But that's clearly not the case, which is why I believe there needs to be restrictions on the media.

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