Reporters Without Borders welcomes President Alfredo Palacio’s decision, announced yesterday, to veto a reform of the criminal code that was passed by congress on 30 November, as one of its articles, which caused a great deal of controversy, would have exposed journalists to the possibility of long prison sentences.
Ecuadorean media and journalists organisations also hailed the veto of the bill, under which journalists could have been jailed for broadcasting or publishing a telephone conversation without express permission from the participants. But the parliamentarian who proposed the amendment continued to insist that it would not have violated press freedom and was only intended to penalise phone tapping.
The presidential veto delays the bill for a year. The final decision as to its adoption will be taken by the parliament that results from the legislative elections scheduled for October 2006.
05-12-05 Concern about heavy prison sentences for broadcasting recorded phone calls
Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the implications for the news media of a criminal law amendment passed by the Ecuadorean congress on 30 November under which journalists could receive heavy prison sentences for broadcasting or publishing a telephone conversation without the express permission of the participants.
“We are aware that journalism is based on a code of conduct and professional ethics that clearly exclude telephone espionage but the concept of ‘express permission of the parties’ could be used unfairly against the media if, for example, a source later retracts,” the press freedom organisation said.
Reporters Without Borders added: “Furthermore, the penalty for breaking this law is out of all proportion and we hope legislators will introduce the necessary guarantees to ensure that press freedom is not violated.”
The criminal code amendment, passed on second reading in a full session of congress, introduces an article punishing any “interception, interference, publication or dissemination, without the express consent of the parties, of information transmitted by telecommunication services or other means of communication.” It bans the news media from broadcasting a clandestinely-recorded telephone conversation without permission from all participants, under pain of imprisonment for up to nine years.
The proposed law, which must now be approved by the government within 10 days, has caused a storm since the congressional vote. Parliamentarian Ernesto Pazmiño of the Democratic Left Party told the daily El Comercio that it “violates the media’s right to free access to information sources.”
In the same newspaper, parliamentarian Alfonso Harb of the right-wing Social Christian Party (PSC), the bill’s originator, stressed the need to respect privacy: “The law does not violate press freedom. It punishes espionage... The aim it to avoid political blackmail by means of tapped telephone calls.”
The proposed law is a consequence of the accusations of phone tapping and spying on government opponents that sullied President Lucio Gutiérrez prior to his ouster on 20 April.