Ecuadorian Media Under Fire

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Using the criminal justice system as a way to punish journalists who criticize the government is a dictatorial recourse for shutting down dissent and freedom of opinion. The government of President Rafael Correa in Ecuador is the best example of this.

Journalist Emilio Palacio, of El Universo in Guayaquil, back in February published an opinion column entitled "No to the Lies" in which he called the President a "dictator", accusing him of manipulating the events on September 20 last year, when Correa was in a hospital after what happened during a police strike.

The President reacted to the column by bringing criminal charges against Palacio and the three directors of El Universo, accusing him of criminal defamation of the government. The judgment sought was $80 million in damages and prison terms for the accused. On Wednesday the 20th, a judge sentenced the four defendants to three years of imprisonment and awarded damages of $30 million.

This is an act of censorship and intimidation of the Ecuadorian media by the government, disguised as justice.

It is beyond comprehension that, in a democracy, laws are still being enforced which make a crime of an opinion critical of the president. In such conditions civil lawsuits are more appropriate, although in this case what is being pursued is the muzzling of a media outlet by bankrupting it.

Presidents like Correa must come to understand that they have no monopoly over the truth, and the people know it. They must also recognize that the presidential figure is not sullied by an expression of opinion, which by definition is subjective.

Living with criticism is part of the natural dynamic of democracy. Falling back on laws that defend power with vague proscriptions of defamation is the act of a dictator, and by so doing Correa is acting like the dictator that Palacio said he is.