April 26, 2017
Ecuadoran government fines journalists for what they didn’t say
by Kait Howard
While governments around the world have been known to crack down on journalists for covering stories that, in one way or another, threaten their authority, it’s rarer to hear about journalists being punished for stories they don’t report.
That’s just what happened in Ecuador last week when the country’s Superintendency of Information and Communication (SuperCom) fined seven media companies for failing to report on a story about conservative politician Guillermo Lasso’s taxes that had been published in the left-wing Argentinian paper Página/12 in March.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), SuperCom fined four newspapers and three TV stations $3,750 each for “declining to follow up on a March 15 story… alleging that defeated opposition presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso evaded taxes.” CPJ’s senior program coordinator for the Americas criticized the move, saying, “No government anywhere, including Ecuador, has any business telling the news media what to cover.”
On April 2, Lasso narrowly lost the presidential election to Lenín Moreno, who served as Ecuador’s vice president from 2007 to 2017 under his ally Rafael Correa, still the nation’s president. Correa has been under fire for helping pass legislation that gave the government sweeping censorship powers. A democratic socialist, Correa has made statements about the press that, ironically, don’t sound too different from President Trump’s, describing the media as the “greatest enemy” of the social and economic reforms he was pursuing. “We have to put an end to the illegitimate, immoral political power that certain media have,” he was quoted saying by the BBC’s Irene Caselli, apparently referring to the fact that privately-owned Ecuadoran media have “traditionally served the interests of their owners.” In op-eds, the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards vigorously denounced the new censorship powers.
Several of the fined outlets protested the punishment. According to the CJP, “lawyers for [Ecuadoran news daily] El Comercio argued that the original Página/12 story was poorly reported, failed to include a response from Lasso, and that publishing the unverified allegations would have violated an Ecuadoran law barring media from promoting or denigrating candidates immediately before elections.”
Moreno, now safely elected, has apparently said he would ask SuperCom to annul the ruling, saying he considers the matter to be “baseless.”
Kait Howard was a publicist at Melville House.