Ecuador: Communication Law Reform Threatens Communal Rights

FROM THE EDITORS: In Ecuador, one of the first legislative actions of conservative President Guillermo Lasso has been to attempt to reform Ecuador’s Communication Law. By highlighting “freedom of expression” as an individual right, the new law would supersede rights already won under the Communication Law, which guarantee the right to information and communication as a collective human right. Independent press, community and indigenous media suffered major offensives and setbacks during the last 15 years of Alianza País rule. They now foresee a new repressive and restrictive neoliberal wave, with the pretense of “defending” individual freedoms by restricting collective communication rights and paving the way for greater corporate media monopolies. Fair access to media production and communications is a right that sets to undo centuries of dominant colonial and corporate narratives. That is why Awasqa shares a translation of this Open Letter signed by the community media groups and organizations of Ecuador. 

An Open Letter from the

Community Communication Groups to the Country

Free, intercultural, inclusive, diverse, and participatory communication is a Constitutional right for everyone. (Art. 16)

Therefore, the State must guarantee the allocation of frequencies through transparent methods and in equal conditions for public, private, and community media, avoiding the monopoly and concentration in the concession of frequencies. (Art.17 Constitution of Ecuador)

We raise our voices as a plural and broad sector of communication and journalism in Ecuador, represented by community communications, community media, communicators, journalists, community communication associations, audiovisual producers, Afro-descendant and Indigenous Peoples, academics and researchers, and the public media sector. We express here our concern regarding the repeal of the current Organic Law of Communication Regulations and Organic Law of Freedom of Expression and Communication law proposal sent by President Guillermo Lasso to the National Assembly for its consideration. 

We are making an energetic and urgent call so that the possible changes to the current Organic Law of Communication are not regressive in communication rights for the community and public sectors. We believe that the State must comply with its obligation to guarantee rights contemplated under the Constitution and the Organic Law of Communication, approved in 2013 and later reformed in 2018: access to frequencies; the creation of their own communication media for communities, groups, and social organizations; setting aside 34% of the total radio-electric spectrum for this sector; and safeguarding institutions such as the Council for the Promotion and Regulation of Information and Communication established via referendum in 2011, which makes it possible to make public communication policies viable. 

To guarantee true freedom of expression, the democratization of communication, and independent audiovisual production in our country, it is necessary to adhere to the following Affirmative Actions provided for under the current Organic Law of Communication: training, tax exemptions for imported equipment, preferential credits, and funds. 

Both the Executive and the National Assembly must recognize and remember that those articles susceptible to political abuse to sanction and prosecute journalistic work were removed already from the legislation. 

In this sense, we look with concern at some articles present in the bill prepared by the Executive, which places Freedom of Expression as an individual right and not as a collective right of the Nations. This individualistic notion of freedom of expression omits the right of groups to create their own communication, reducing Freedom of Expression as exclusive to journalists and the media and not as a right of all citizens.

By not recognizing communication as a right, it omits the responsibility of the State regarding this issue and the will of State agencies whether or not to grant frequency concessions, thus leaving the principles of equity and equality established by the Constitution inapplicable.

Article 9 of the cited bill proposal, although recognizes the right to intercultural and plurinational communication produced by Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian, and Montubio peoples and nationalities, recognized; it seems merely declarative. Without access to radio and television frequencies, this postulate becomes a dead letter that cannot guarantee access to radio and television media.

We believe the country requires for the National Assembly to debate a bill that makes the right to communication, as enshrined in the Constitution, and freedom of expression viable, allowing for a broad and plural participation, public debate, and analysis of the regulatory framework by all sectors that make up the country’s communication system, within the allotted times and appropriate mechanisms.

We urge the new government to review the processes for awarding frequencies developed by the previous government, which kept the concentration of frequencies in a few hands, completely ignoring the 2009 Audit of the Concessions of Radio and Television Frequencies and Article 17 of the Constitution that restricts oligopolies or monopolies, direct or indirect, of the ownership of the communication media and the use of frequencies.

The community communication sector will be vigilant of the actions by the National Assembly, assembly members, and the Executive to prevent any planned regressive measures.

We invite the general public, social organizations, academia, groups, and communities to join us in drafting a Law that strengthens information and communication rights within a framework of Plurinational and Intercultural Rights.

It is essential and urgent to recognize that communication is a right that gives voice to all human rights.

! Without community media, there is no freedom of expression!

– Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador CONAIE
– Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana CONFENIAE
– Confederación de Pueblos de la Nacionalidad Kichwa del Ecuador ECUARUNARI
– Asociación Latinoamericana de Educación y Comunicación Popular, ALER

– Coordinadora de Medios Comunitarios Populares y Educativos del Ecuador. CORAPE
– Coalición de Comunicación y Medios Comunitarios del Ecuador 
– El Churo Comunicación
– Asociación de Productores Audiovisuales Kichwas APAK 
– Agencia Latinoamericana de Información – ALAI
– CoopDocs
– Lanceros digitales 
– Tecnologías Comunitarias
– La Gazzetta del Zángano 
– Radio Kimsakocha
– Radio Kipa 
– Radio La Voz de la CONFENIAE
– Radio Latacunga
– Radio MICC
– Radio La Voz de las Cascadas Vivas
– Radio Tuna
– Red Kapari Comunicación 
– Urku Kapari
– WambraEc, medio digital comunitario
– AfroComunicacionesEc
– ACAPANA: Asociación de Creadores de Cine y Audiovisual de Pueblos y Nacionalidades
– Asociación Latinoamericana de Investigadores de la Comunicación (ALAIC)
– Minga por la Pachamama
– Comunidad Amazonica Cordillera del Condor mirador
– Colectivo Pro Derechos Humanos
– Pressenza 
– Radialistas Apasionadas y Apasionados 
– Radio Jatari Kichwa
– Facultad de Comunicación Social, FACSO – UCE
– Mauro Cerbino, profesor investigador
– Isabel Ramos
– Francisco Ordónez

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