June 15, 2013 1:28 am

Ecuador law sparks fears of media curbs

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Ecuador’s Congress on Friday passed a divisive media law that could tighten restrictions on newspapers and television stations in what many believe to be a blow to freedom of speech.

Observers hailed the move as a victory for firebrand president Rafael Correa, a fierce critic of the local media.

Labelled the “gag law” by opposition lawmakers, it gives the government greater power to regulate the media, and calls for the establishment of a watchdog which could impose fines and force public apologies.

“The restrictive provisions and vague language of this legislation run counter to constitutional guarantees and international standards on freedom of expression,” said Carlos Lauría of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. “This legislation puts into law a key goal of the Correa presidency – muzzling all critics of his administration.”

However, the law, which has been debated since 2009, bans public officials from censoring media outlets and includes the right to withhold the name of a source.

Government officials praised the law as a “milestone” that would make communications in the Andean country more democratic. The government is calling for a reshuffle of broadcast frequencies to grant a third of them to indigenous communities and another third to the state.

However, besides the president’s Saturday broadcasts, the government has already been expanding into running radio stations, television channels, newspapers and magazines.

Opponents say Mr Correa is an authoritarian leader who is quelling free speech, and turning the local press into his whipping boy after he pursued criminal libel cases against some critics, pardoning them only after they were sentenced to prison or made to pay damages.

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