The country sharply differs from its neighbours Colombia and Peru by the very few physical attacks on its media. However, tension rose in mid-2007 when President Correa publicly called the media “corrupt and mediocre” and said he would snub it. The media is bracing itself for a new national constitution and how it might affect the media.
President Rafael Correa called reporter Sandra Ochoa, of the daily El Universo, “an ugly cow” and “badly brought up” when he found her too insistent at a 30 June press conference. The left-wing Correa admitted a few days earlier however that he had “made mistakes” in his relations with the media since he took office in January. He has been sometimes fiercely attacked for the policies and the reform process that began with election of a constituent assembly in September. “Latin America’s media has always been against progressive governments,” he said in late June, announcing he would not hold any more press conferences at the presidential palace and would henceforth only communicate with the media in writing.
To counter the traditional dependence of Ecuador’s media’s on big business, Correa set up the country’s first-ever publicly-controlled TV station, Ecuador TV, in November. He also asked the constituent assembly to work on new regulations for the media which may be included in a new national constitution. But while saying he wants media diversity, he does not seem to want to decriminalise press offences. After four months in office, he sued the managing editor of the daily La Hora, Francisco Vivanco, for “insults” (punishable by a prison sentence) after an editorial appeared attacking “official vandalism.” Correa offered to withdraw the suit if Vivanco publicly apologised. The journalist refused but the suit has not been pursued.
Provincial journalists were outraged in March at the handing down on appeal of a two-month prison sentence on Nelson Fueltala, correspondent of the daily La Gaceta and the station Radio Latacunga in Cotopaxí, for supposedly insulting the town’s mayor in 2006. His lawyers have so far kept him out of jail by appealing to the supreme court.
Despite these prickly areas, Ecuador’s media is doing fairly well. The few attacks on the media are nothing compared with those in neighbouring Colombia and Peru. The only violence (in mid-year) involved Helena Rodríguez, Quito bureau chief for the pan-American TV station Telesur. One of the station’s vehicles was sabotaged and Rodríguez received e-mailed death threats in May that accused her of being a “whore” of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Telesur was founded by Chávez in 2005 and aims to counter the influence of the US networks. Personal and political ties (though hardly substantial) between Chávez and Correa may explain this hostility to the station.