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December 22, 2014
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Ecuador paper fights back after gov’t claims

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.
By Carolina Thibaud
Herald Staff

Quito says financial issues behind Hoy shutdown but director blames clampdown on freedoms

The controversy surrounding the closure of a leading Ecuadorean newspaper became a matter of international debate this week after the country’s Communications Secretariat issued a statement in which it questioned the reasons behind the shutdown.

The communiqué was forwarded by Ecuadorean embassies to media around the world.

Hoy’s closure was announced at the end of June by director Jaime Mantilla Anderson, who attributed the shutdown to pressure from the government of President Rafael Correa and to limits imposed by a new media law. He said that the daily paper would only be printed on weekends and referred readers to Hoy’s online edition.

But in a statement signed by National Communications Secretary Fernando Alvarado Espinel, the Ecuadorean government said that “serious administrative, financial, labour and sales problems” were behind the paper’s closure and that the company had “dragged” these issues for the last “15 years.” Therefore, the statement affirmed, it is false that the media law is to blame for its closure, considering that the law was enforced only “a year ago.”

The government’s statement also said the paper owes the equivalent of 91.64 percent of its capital, which is considered a breach of the local Companies Law that states that debt cannot exceed 50 percent of a company’s assets.

Alvarado Espinel also highlighted that, according to Mantilla Anderson’s own words, the paper did not “close” but “transferred its content to a virtual platform,” a decision that is hardly surprising given “the global trend to transition from paper to a digital format.”

In an emailed response to the Herald, Mantilla Anderson admitted that the “suspension of (Hoy’s) daily edition” was a decision that was debated for several months but, “like we said in the editorial of our last printed edition on June 29, a series of factors affecting the work of an independent, free and plural press in Ecuador” added to the mix and prompted the decision to stop publishing the newspaper on a daily basis.

Mantilla Anderson also accused President Correa of repeatedly stating that free press “is his government’s main enemy” and of “suing and attacking journalists and newspaper directors.”

Three directors and a columnist of El Universo newspaper, another opposition daily in Ecuador, were convicted in 2012 to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay US$10 million each after publishing an op-ed entitled “No more lies” in which the newspaper referred to Correa as “the Dictator” and alleged he told troops to open fire “without warning on a hospital full of civilians and innocent people” during a police uprising against him. Correa eventually pardoned them.

Mantilla said that Hoy was the main victim of an “advertising boycott” by the government, given that, unlike other opposition newspapers, “it doesn’t have financial links to other groups.”

Hoy’s director also said that the new media law “criminalizes journalistic work and puts it under the control of a Superintendency with the power to sanction media at its discretion.”

Mantilla Anderson has led the Interamerican Press Society (SIP), an institution with headquarters in the US that has faced criticism for allegedly representing the interests of media owners and not journalists or freedom of expression.

Hoy is among Ecuador’s most important newspapers, although it trails El Comercio, El Universo, El Tiempo and El Telégrafo in sales. The government owns and operated El Telégrafo.

@carothibaud
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