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Ecuador9 July 2008

Seizures of a radio station and two TV stations called “inopportune” in run-up to referendum on new constitution

Reporters Without Borders regrets yesterday’s seizure of three privately-owned broadcast media - two Quito-based TV stations (Gamavisión and TC Televisión) and a radio station based in the western city of Guayaquil (Radio Sucre) - which resulted in a few changes to their programming but not in any interruption in their broadcasts.

Regardless of the grounds for the state’s intervention, which were different in the case of the radio station from that of the two TV stations, Reporters Without Borders feels the seizures of the three news media were both inopportune and unfair to the staff. Economy minister Fausto Ortiz resigned yesterday in disagreement with the measures.

“The owners of Gamavisión and TC Televisión may well be suspected of bankruptcy and embezzlement and subject to judicial proceedings, but was it really necessary to send in the police and to disrupt their programming?” the press freedom organisation asked.

“The situation with Radio Sucre was very different, as it allegedly failed to respect certain frequency standards,” Reporters Without Borders continued. “But in the run-up to the approval and vote of a new constitution that would change broadcast regulation, and amid tension between the president and the press, such developments do not encourage an atmosphere of calm debate. On the contrary, we fear they could lead to a polarisation that hurts the news media, as it already has in neighbouring countries.”

Yesterday’s police raids in Quito on Gamavisión and TC Televisión were carried out at the behest of the state Agency for the Guarantee of Deposits (AGD). The two stations were able to continue all their usual programming except their news bulletins. In a protest, Gamavisión’s staff broadcast the word “Censored” for a few seconds when the morning news programme was cut short.

The TV stations were included in a total of 200 companies allegedly owned by bankers William and Roberto Isaías that were seized in the same operation. Fugitives from Ecuadorean justice, the two Isaías brothers are currently in the United States. They are being prosecuted in Ecuador in connection with the collapse of Filanbanco, which was put into liquidation in 1999 after accumulating 600 million dollars in debts.

The Isaías family reacted to the seizures by denying ownership of either of the two stations. Gamavisión, for its part, insisted that it had no link with the Isaías brothers, while TC Televisión said it belonged to a third brother, Estéfano Isaías.

The new constitution - which President Correa hopes to have approved on 18 July and then endorsed in a September referendum - would forbid any banking group to own a news media. The management of the two TV stations called the seizures “a violation of free expression.” The police closed the premises of Radio Sucre during yesterday’s raid in Guayaquil but the station was able to continue broadcasting on another frequency and on its website. The raid was carried out on the orders of the Telecommunications Authority chief Paul Rojas, who said it was guilty of misuse of frequencies. He said 14 other radio stations risked being seized for the same reason.

The press freedom situation is on the whole satisfactory in Ecuador although it has been affected by tension between President Correa and some news media. Correa sometimes finds it hard to accept criticism and on 23 June he requested the reopening of “insult” proceedings against Francisco Vivanco, the editor of the Quito-based daily La Hora, who published an editorial last year that upset him.

The courts had closed the case, but now Vivanco is again facing the possibility of six months to two years in prison. The Correa-backed new constitution, which is currently being finalised, would nonetheless guarantee that the government would not intervene in media content.

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in the annual report
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