Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the impact on the news media of a state of emergency in effect in the northeastern departments of Sucumbíos and Orellana since 18 August and about the pressure the authorities have put on one news station, Radio Sucumbíos, in particular.
"We remind the Ecuadorean government that a state of emergency should only be exceptional and temporary and should under no circumstances be used as a pretext for controlling the news media," the press freedom organisation said, adding that it would be waiting to see if Radio Sucumbíos is allowed to resume working normally soon.
President Alfredo Palacio decreed the state of emergency in response to an outbreak of violence between government-backed oil companies and the population of Sucumbíos and Orellana, which has the support of the local authorities.
The decree’s measures include "preventive censorship of the media" and the suspension of basic freedoms including the freedom of expression and opinion. Around 10 stations that supported the population in the two departments have reportedly been forced to suspend their news programming.
A local source told Reporters Without Borders that Radio Sucumbíos, which covers both departments, has been especially hit by the measures. The censorship affects all news about the paralysation of the petroleum industry as a result of the demonstrations and strikes by the local population. Journalists are being monitored and have been banned from conducting interviews. They have also been intimidated and summoned for questioning by the military. Arrests warrants have been issued for some journalists.
As the journalists at Radio Sucumbíos initially paid no heed to the measures, the military went to the station to tell its manager he was being close down. Following negotiations, he was given a "last chance" and the station is still on the air. But it has to broadcast government communiques and it has had to replace its news programmes with music. Nonetheless, it is still receiving phone calls and messages threatening it with closure.
The local source told Reporters Without Borders that the measures were exaggerated, even under a state of emergency, as Radio Sucumbíos was a station that just broadcast the straight news without editorialising.