In recent years, Latin America has seen an overall shift away from media independence and freedom of the press – only one in 50 Latin Americans live in free media environments, according to Freedom House, even though the majority of Latin American countries are still democracies. The biggest drop — 15 points in the last five years — was in Ecuador, a clear illustration of the problems that can occur when democratically elected leaders curtail media freedom.
After Rafael Correa took office on a wave of populist charisma in 2007, the Ecuadorian media began to realize that they needed to watch themselves due to various acts against independent media that alleged corruption in the Correa family or the Correa administration. These attacks against press freedom were formally legalized with the Organic Law on Communications, passed in 2012 without open debate in the National Assembly or among civil society.
This law, which Correa lauded as a step toward the democratization of media and a strengthening of freedom of expression as it broke up a near-monopoly of news sources owned by a single family, also opened the door to greater state intervention in the media.
The major concern for media outlets is that many aspects of the law were left ambiguous, allowing for broad interpretation and arbitrary application. For instance, Article 26 of the law prohibits “media lynching” and allows public officials being investigated for corruption by the media to sue the journalist or the newspaper doing the investigating. Article 71 of the law defines information as a “public good” equal to water quality and electricity, and therefore subject to increased regulation by the state.
The most recent case of the Correa administration battling perceived defamation in the media is that of Xavier Bonilla, a political cartoonist known by the pen name Bonil.