Ecuadorian authorities on Friday ordered the Guayaquil newspaper El Universo and a local cartoonist to publish an apology for a satirical photomontage of a National Assembly member which they said discriminated against Afro-Ecuadorians, in a case that is fueling concerns about censorship and press freedom under the administration of President Rafael Correa.
Government information and communications watchdog Supercom, which has the power to supervise and enforce communications laws, gave the paper and the cartoonist 72 hours to publish the apology and leave it on the front page of its website for seven days.
Supercom also warned the cartoonist, Xavier Bonilla, against repeat violations of the communications law, which lawyers said leaves the door open for future fines against the cartoonist and the newspaper.
“There aren’t economic sanctions, but the abuse of authority is more expensive. I have been accused of a crime without a single proof,” Mr. Bonilla said Friday. “From now on, El Universo and any journalist can be accused of discrimination and sanctioned.”
The sentence can be appealed, although the order must be carried out while the appeal is heard.
Mr. Bonilla was sued by an Afro-Ecuadorean group over a photomontage published in August that made fun of Agustín “Tin” Delgado, a former national soccer team player turned lawmaker for the ruling Alianza País party, who stuttered through a speech in the National Assembly. A video of the speech had been widely watched on social networks.
Mr. Delgado said he wasn’t seeking punishment but a change in attitude, although he could take other civil or criminal action in the future.
Since 2008, Mr. Correa has used a variety of tactics to punish journalists and media outlets that publish opinions he disagrees with, said Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America programs at Freedom House. The Washington, D.C.-based watchdog group says the allegations against Mr. Bonilla are the latest example of government efforts to stifle Ecuador’s independent media.
Last year, El Universo and Mr. Bonilla were sanctioned by Supercom for publishing a cartoon about a raid by authorities on the home of political activist Fernando Villavicencio. El Universo was fined about $90,000, and Mr. Bonilla was ordered to modify his cartoon.
Credit: The Wall Street Journal, www.wsj.com