Ecuador's Law on Communication: a tool to strengthen democracy

2013-08-09 19:00:00

The Organic Law on Communication, approved on June 14 by the National Assembly of Ecuador, is a victory for social organizations that for some time now have struggled for better conditions to exercise the human right to communicate and for universal access to the technologies and media that make this possible.


The fair distribution of radio frequencies, one of the principal measures demanded by communication networks and groups and by civil society, has finally been recognized in the Law.  Article 106 establishes that electromagnetic frequencies for radio and television will be fairly distributed: 33% for public media, 33% for private media, and 34% for community media.


With this Ecuador has marked a historic achievement, since it opens the possibility for the voices of those hitherto excluded to be heard through their own communications media.  Now public and community media have a Law that supports and promotes them. Never again can community media be persecuted as illegal or "pirate" enterprises.  Democracy is the winner, the country wins and the people win, those who for centuries were condemned to silence.


Another positive aspect of the Law is that by restricting monopolies and oligopolies (Art. 113) a greater diversity and plurality of voices in the public sphere will be guaranteed a hearing.  From now on the media are obliged to disseminate content that expresses and reflects the cosmovision, the culture, traditions, knowledge and wisdom of indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian and Montubian peoples, with a space involving at least 5% of their daily programmes (Art. 36).  The Law also guarantees the inclusion of handicapped persons through diverse measures (Art. 37).


The citizenry can now count on better guarantees to access quality information produced with social responsibility.  Media workers can also count on better working conditions, with respect for their rights as workers.


With respect to universal access to information and communication technologies,  the Law establishes in article 35 the right of all persons to gain access to and to acquire necessary skills in information and communication technologies in order to make possible the enjoyment of their rights and opportunities for personal development.  To achieve this, the State should institute public policies in order that no community,  however isolated or poor,  is deprived of access to the Internet and other technologies, or of the possibility of having their own media .


Finally, Ecuadorian cultural diversity will have a greater presence in the media. The country and its movie directors, musicians, actors, cultural groups and local producers will be favoured, since the law establishes that at least 60% of daily programming in time-slots apt for the general public will be destined to the broadcasting of nationally produced content, including 10% of independent national production.  National music should represent 50% of musical programme content.


The voices and rights of children and adolescents will have their own space in the media, given that since the enactment of this Law the media are obliged to prioritize them (Art. 15).


The citizenry can now count on a legal mechanism that will protect and defend them in the face of possible acts of defamation, insults or attacks on personal or collective dignity, disseminated in the media.


Problematic Aspects


Even as we recognize these achievements, we note that there are in the Law certain ambiguities and missing elements that could be open to interpretations that are contrary to the spirit of the law, which is aimed to democratize communications. We believe that the regulation and implementation policies with respect to this Law should guarantee the rights and participation of citizens; therefore we call on those responsible for defining them to do so in consultation with a variety of social actors.


Among these problematic areas we note:


Article 83 authorizes the creation of official public media, which is somewhat contradictory since public media, by definition and due to its financing by taxpayers, should have a pluralist vocation and an independent editorial position.  In any case, it will be important to establish quotas or other mechanisms to ensure that a majority of radio frequencies from the 33% in the public sector will be given to pubic media that are NOT official.


Article 20, concerned with the subsequent liability of media, establishes that those who post comments on Web pages of news media should be duly identified by the media outlet.  Such a disposition explicitly affects online anonymity, a fundamental element for the freedom of expression on the internet. In addition, the privacy of the user could be compromised, since it is not clear how the media will handle personal data that they are obliged to request.  The separation between information generated by the media and the comments of individuals is sufficient to establish the boundaries for responsibilities involved.


Article 26, on "media lynching", while it attempts to provide a solution to a real problem, is ambiguous in its formulation.  The regulations must establish clearly which cases could be considered under this article in order to avoid inhibiting the role of investigative journalism in matters of public interest.


Article 106 refers to a fair distribution of frequencies, including the sub-article 5 which refers to the new radio signals that will become available under digitalization.  The Transitory Article 20 indicates that these new radio and television signals will be administered by the State. The Master Plan of Transition to Digital TV that has already been approved (October 2012), and which assigns the new signals to the present concessionaries, is in contradiction with this article.  Will digital television be a way to multiply the concentration of digital frequencies by four, or will this be taken as an opportunity to distribute them fairly?


Article 42 establishes an obligatory professional title for those who exercise journalistic tasks on a permanent basis.  These titles should be extended to persons who work in community media on the basis of their accumulated experience, their professional trajectory and specific knowledge that represent merits equivalent to a professional title.


We are confident that the Council for Regulation and Development of Communication and the Superintendence of Information y Communication will be open to proposals on the part of citizens in drawing up the regulations, and will ensure the necessary transparency in drafting the binding reports, without consideration for partisan political considerations or economic interests in the assignment of radio and television frequencies.


Ecuador now faces a historic opportunity to democratize communication.  The citizenry will be vigilant of the faithful fulfillment of the articles that guarantee this opportunity.




Coordinadora de Radio Popular Educativa del Ecuador, CORAPE

Asociación Latinoamericana de Educación Radiofónica, ALER

Radialistas Apasionados y Apasionadas

Colectivo Churo Comunicación

Agencia Latinoamericana de Información, ALAI

Organización Católica Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Comunicación, OCLACC


Isabel Ramos

Nelsy Lizarazo

Mauro Cerbino

María Belén Calvache

Guadalupe Yapud

Grace Merino

Fernando Checa