(Updates with fine against journalists in ninth paragraph.)
Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Ecuador’s government introduced limits on what the media can publish about political candidates and parties during the run-up to elections.
The law, published in yesterday’s official gazette, bans the press and other media from publishing anything favorable or unfavorable about contestants or their movements in the 45 days before a vote, according to a copy of the rules posted on congress’s website.
Ecuador’s next elections are scheduled for Jan. 20, 2013, when voters will choose the president, vice-president, and members of the national assembly.
The legislation, promoted by President Rafael Correa, has been criticized by local and international human rights organizations, including the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which says its vague wording could result in press censorship.
“We condemn the latest reforms to Ecuador’s electoral law, which are so broad that they could, among other things, effectively prevent reporting on election matters,” said Carlos Lauria, head of the group’s Americas program, said in a Jan. 31 statement. “This deprives citizens of their right to stay informed on election news and represents the latest step in the deterioration of press freedom under Correa.”
$40 Million Fine
Correa, an ally of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, has drawn global criticism for his treatment of the local press after an Ecuadorean judge in July sentenced the owners of El Universo, the nation’s biggest newspaper, and a former editor at the publication to three years in prison and a $40 million fine for libel against him.
The newspaper’s defense alleges that the president’s lawyer wrote the sentence for the judge, a claim Correa and his lawyers deny.
Correa has denied he seeks to stifle the press, saying the new law will eliminate “illegitimate propaganda.”
A court said today that two local journalists, Juan Carlos Calderon and Cristian Zurita, were guilty of “moral damage” against Correa for publishing a book detailing public contracts received by Correa’s brother Fabricio during the current government’s administration, according to a statement published in the president’s official gazette. The reporters were ordered to pay Correa $1 million each as well as $100,000 for the president’s legal fees, according to the statement.
An independent commission, organized by President Correa to investigate the claims, said the contracts were worth about $600 million. Correa is suing the head of the commission, Pablo Chambers, for presenting “false conclusions,” according to a government statement. All the contracts have been canceled, the government said.
--Editors: Richard Jarvie, Harry Maurer
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