By Lindsay Green-Barber
QUITO -- Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has called for a consulta popular to begin Monday, January 24. This consulta will consist of 10 questions, ranging from opinions on the treatment of animals and gambling to constitutional changes such support for changes to the Corte Consticional and the proposed controversial Ley Orgánica de Comunicación, Libertad de Expresión y Aceso a la Información Pública.
Opposition asambleistas from both the left and the right have condemned the consulta, arguing that the simplicity of the questions will close debate over serious issues. Specifically, the question regarding the ley de comunicación addresses only one of at least three troubling aspects of the drafted law, obscuring the reality of the law and occluding debate.
Question number four of the consulta asks the respondent if they would be in support of a Consejo de Comunicación that would be charged with the regulation and review of media productions, especially for sexually or linguistically explicit or racist materials. This misleading question does not mention that the drafted law also gives the proposed consejo power to determine whether media productions are verifiable and truthful. Furthermore, the proposed ley creates a strict regimen of sanctions for those journalists and media outlets that are found to be in violation of regulations by the Consejo de Comunicación.
Finally, the ley requires that all journalists and media sources be registered with the government and that journalists have an official card to work as a journalist.
In a political context in which media freedom has already been curtailed by the current administration, these elements will likely lead to further self-censureship by those who fear being reprimanded by the Consejo.
While states have regulatory bodies to govern media outlets, these are normally autonomous from the government. However, with the currently proposed Consejo de Comunicación, there are no efforts to create an autonomous entity. Instead, the power to decide what is true, and thus determine what information may be broadcast to the population, would lie in the hands of a government body. Opposition asambleistas, including Pachakutik representative Lourdes Tibán, submitted a proposed revision of the law that included a consejo, but one that would be comprised strictly of citizens. The consulta popular has effectively ended all debate over the ley de comunicación while simultaneously over-simplifying the content of the proposed law to such an extent as to render the results of the consulta as practically meaningless.Lindsay Green-Barber, a graduate teaching fellow at Hunter College and PhD candidate at City University in New York, is in Ecuador doing field research for her doctoral dissertation on Information and Communication Technologies and Social Movements in developing countries.