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September 24, 2011

 

President Rafael Correa, the leftist leader of Ecuador, took on the media on Friday at the home of one of journalism’s pinnacles, Columbia University in New York.
The school awards the Cabot Prizes, journalism’s oldest, which honor the best and most courageous reporters covering the Americas. Oh, and let’s not forget the Pulitizer Prizes.
Correa has come under fire from media watchdogs and human rights groups who say he has limited press freedom since coming to power in 2007. But the president rarely shies away from a fight, whether it is with international bondholders, oil companies or critics of his policies.
For over 45 minutes, he lambasted the press, verbally jousted with journalists and students, and even drew some applause during his speech titled: “Vulnerable Societies: Media and Democracy in Latin America”.
Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University and a legal expert on freedom of speech issues, drew some laughter himself, even if unintentional, with his welcoming remarks that highlighted the controversy over the media in Ecuador.
Noting some of Correa’s achievements, Bollinger mentioned the president’s reelection and said: “And today Ecuador, in Ecuador, he remains a popular and widely admired leader,” to which the audience burst into laughter.
He continued and was interrupted by more laughter in mid-sentence when he said: “President Correa has also endured widespread criticism for his treatment of Ecuador’s print and broadcast media and for policies antagonistic to freedom of speech and press, it is said.”
Bollinger said he was eager to hear Correa’s account of the serious concerns.
“Students of the jurisprudence of free expression will recognize Ecuador’s laws as another form of seditious libel. Such laws which make criticisms of government officials a crime, typically have been adopted by emerging democracies or other societies seeking to extinguish threats to a fragile political structure,” Bollinger said.
He explained how even the United States had used similar tactics, citing the Seditious Libel act of 1798 and the World War I espionage act.
“But over time we have come to see the wisdom of repudiating this course of action. Through this experience a lesson we have learned is that the impulse to forbid government criticism has always later been understood to be an epic abdication of our society’s pledge to live by reason, to confront dissent with courage and to be temperate with dealing with misbehavior,” Bollinger said.
Correa spoke in English and told the audience: “We live in a world where the media, with its media power, has tried to replace the Rule of Law with the Rule of Opinion.”
At the same time, he defended freedom of expression and faced questions from students who asked how he could rationalize the apparent contradictions in his policies. He replied that these were complex issues worthy of discussion.
Correa has a dim view of the media structure in Ecuador, and the region overall.
“In Latin America … it seems very strange that there is no jail sentence for damaging a human being’s honor, although there is jail for those who are charged with mistreating a dog,” he said.
He has sued and won a case in the local courts against an outspoken critic and three board members of the opposition El Universo newspaper.
The paper’s former op-ed editor, Emilio Palacio, has since fled to Miami saying he feared he would not get a fair hearing from the judiciary at home. He and the board members were sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $40 million fine over a column that criticized how Correa handled a police mutiny in Sept. 2010.
Ecuador’s penal code punishes anyone who “falsely accuses” a public official of a crime.
Carlos Lauria, senior program coordinator for the Americas at the Committee to Protect Journalists, took direct aim at the president’s policies, saying he had urged the courts to imprison journalists just because he didn’t like their opinions.
Correa’s response: “Sir, you are lying and you are a liar.”
Click here for an audio clip of the exchange

Photo: Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador speaking to students, faculty and the media at Columbia University, Friday September 23, 2011. By Daniel Bases

Comments

Correa says he is a tolerant president. But his performance of today shows his real face: he does not have any scrupules while dealing with whomever does not agree with his ideas.

Right now, in Ecuador, people are being persecuted for every demonstration of inconformity with his rule. He has dismantled the tripartite power structure of a democratic society, and has created a regime where he himself controls every branch of government.

Yes, it was laughable for such a man to speak about freedom of expression. His attitude against CPJ’s Carlos Lauria tells volumes about the way Correa deals with critics.

Posted by MilouEc | Report as abusive
 

mr bases

i am an ecuadorian who lives in Ecuador and has passed his youth in the midst of the turmoil of a political transition. Sadly in this transition there are power groups (from the economic elite), who are not willing to lend any power or to cede to the claims of change from the people. In latin america the media has always been linked with economic power and to aristocratic families who by publishing stories from their own interest, have even brought down presidents. I am supporter of Mr. Correa, because from the 1st time in 10 years, I can feel that there is something changing not only in the structure of the State, but on the basis of our society as Ecuadorians. However, as I stated earlier, certain groups will not want to disengage from the current status quo that has mantained an entire region under developed and under educated.

That is why in the specific case of Ecuador, the elites are portraying themeselves as the safekeepers of freedom, when 7 years ago they didnt recognized union rights or when they indeed controlled the judicial branch of government.

This is a multidimensional problem that sadly most Human Rights advocates fail to observe, and see that the real human rights violation were done previously by the ones who currently claim their own rights have been violated.

Thank You

Daniel

Posted by dnorona | Report as abusive
 

Dear Reuters,
This is exactly why we in Ecuador don’t trust the media any more. I am an ecuador citizen living abroad and I follow quite closely what happens in my country. I have learned that in order to get the real image of what happened it is not enough to read the newspapers, because, like in this article, there are many slanted opiniones that are written like facts.

If any readers after reading this have a very discusting view of the president of my country, I beg that you reconsider and give us a chance. The hatred that you have for leaders like Correa are only a political manipulation. I have seen Correa’s intervention at columbia. Many things here are taken out of context and ideas are not complete. I dare the readers to dig deeper, and go to the sources: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPY38tLy- hQ

Posted by jorgebaldeon | Report as abusive
 

For the reader’s information, this quote is taken completely out of context and does not reflect what he is saying. I recommend watching the original video.

“In Latin America … it seems very strange that there is no jail sentence for damaging a human being’s honor, although there is jail for those who are charged with mistreating a dog,” he said.

Posted by jorgebaldeon | Report as abusive
 

Dear Sir or Madam

I am from Ecuador. And now I am pursuing a graduate degree in economics in the US.

I just want to say that although I agree with the fact that people should have the right to express themselves freely, in the case of Ecuador the private media that this article is trying portray as the defender of freedom of speech has shared interests with the corrupt banking system that took our country to its worst economic crises at the beginning of the century

Most Ecuadorians are aware of this situation and that is why even though the media in Ecuador is extremely biased, President Correa remains widely popular. In fact to a certain extent people like me believe that Correa has given us a voice in a situation where only the powerful had a voice before thanks to their monopoly of information.

Thank you very much

Roberto D

Posted by JRobertoD | Report as abusive
 

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