Ecuador's support for media freedom -- the real story

Saturday, June 23, 2012
Julian Assange and Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa.

When WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sought asylum on June 19, the question many supporters asked was: “Why the Ecuadorian embassy?”

The simple answer is because the Ecuadorian government has been one of the strongest supporters of WikiLeaks, which reflects its strong stance in defence of media and information freedom.

Much has been made in the media about supposed abuses of media freedom in Ecuador.

However, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa explained Ecuador's media policy in a recent interview with Assange on Russia Today. What his government opposes are media corporations that, through their monopoly on information, have tried to “destabilise our government to avoid any change in our region and lose the power that they have always flaunted”.

Since first being elected president in 2006, Correa — much like Assange — has faced a constant campaign of slander and misinformation, co-ordinated by the media corporations.

Only months after Correa became president, 11 big Ecuadorian daily newspapers published the same front-page editorial attacking him. This was described in a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks as “an unprecedented example of coordinated press rebuke to a sitting president”.

In fact, while publicly criticising Correa for supposed attacks on media freedom, a US embassy cable from March 2009 acknowledged that there was truth to Correa's claim that “the Ecuadorian media play a political role, in this case the role of the opposition”.

The reason was made clear in the cable: “Many media outlet owners come from the elite business class that feels threatened by Correa's reform agenda, and defend their own economic interests via their outlets.”

Speaking to Assange, Correa noted that when he was first elected in 2006, five of the seven privately-owned TV channels were owned by bankers and the state owned none.

In 2008, Ecuadorians voted overwhelmingly for a new constitution. Among other things, it sought to democratise the media and ban bankers from having business interests in the media industry.

The constitution was strengthened last year. Voters backed an amendment to also ban media corporations from being able to own or have shares in business interests in other industries to avoid potential conflicts of interest in reporting news.

The government has also tried to pass a new media law that would break up the corporate media monopoly.

Under the new law, private media ownership would be restricted to 33% of all media outlets, with the state controlling a further 33% and community media having the largest share — 34%.

So far, the new law has been blocked in parliament by the right-wing opposition and vociferously denounced by the media corporations as an attack on “freedom of speech”.

Unsurprisingly, Ecuador’s media has largely failed to cover the contents of the embassy cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, particularly those that have exposed some of their own secrets.

For example, an October 2004 embassy cable revealed how media corporations had colluded to silence information after Ecuador’s banking sector collapse of 1999-2000.

At the time, a conflict broke out between two TV channels that threatened to expose the dealings of bankers linked to their rivals. To avoid escalating the conflict, a “non-aggression pact” was brokered, halting any further media investigations into the dodgy practices of these bankers.

Although initially critical of WikiLeaks, the Ecuadorian government relied in part on leaked cables for its decision to expel the US ambassador in April last year.

The next month, the Ecuadorian government announced that WikiLeaks had published about 950 cables relating to Ecuador at its request.

In April, Correa said that Assange's work with WikiLeaks, had put Washington in “check”, which was why Assange was being “persecuted, slandered, lynched by the media”.

From GLW issue 926

Comments

US Government Behaving Like Terrorists

I am terrified that the US Government will have its way and destroy our rights to know and speak truth without fear of persecution. I cant believe this is happening they are supposed to be allies. They should just accept as should all Governments that the people that elect them need to know what they are doing. I dont care who exposes the truth or how they obtain it personally but I thank them for delivering it to me so that I can understand how to make a correct judgement of any situation. I believe the world is in a shocking mess and getting worse and if every person, organisation and government KNOWS that they cannot hide atrocities any more then the next despot that decides to commit some horrendous human abuse might just decide not to. Thank you so much Wikileaks, Assange and Garzon and every other person on the planet who sees what is really at stake here and is doing something about it (as am I).

Never thought I would say this but at the moment I am more terrified of the United States Goverment than any other government on the planet - isnt that what terrorists do - terrorise people. Make no mistake this is not a fight for Wikileaks survival its a fight for free speech. I am actually not frightened of surveillance and accept it and so should the United States Government as well as every other person, organisation or Government on the planet. I know the US will claim that they need to be subversive to protect us but I dont buy that, after a while everyone will know they are being watched and will watch their actions. So I say bring it on surveillance for everyone INCLUDING GOVERNMENTS.

Julian Assange/Ecuador

Good on Ecuador and much support for Julian Assange. Mainstream media just mouths rubbish from the US and then act as though it's the truth - they did the same with Venezuela and are still doing it. Those who've been this way before go and do their own research and then come across the truth as shown in this article and others. You never hear of the real steps taken to further the cause of fair dinkum democracy such as the people in both these countries putting together a REAL Constitution that provides real protections and is inclusive of all peoples, particularly indigenous people and other marginalised groups, such as women, homosexual people etc. A breath of fresh air!

Those of us who know the truth have an obligation to voice it at every opportunity! If I was Julian, I'd choose one of these countries too! Congratulations to all countries in the region in their unanimous support for Julian Assange and the right of Ecuador to reach their own decision. Gives me hope for the future. An exercise in the real power and confidence that people feel when they know they're included and have rights - together as a nation/s.