Ecuador’s Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that key provisions of the National Assembly’s new communication law are unconstitutional. The ruling followed President Guillermo Lasso’s partial veto and his request that the legislation be reviewed by the court.
The ruling sends the law back to the Assembly with orders to make revisions to comply with constitutional guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press.
Among the court’s objections to the proposed law was to language that removed constitutional protections for opinions expressed in the media and for allowing the government to define “false information” promulgated in the press and on social media. In addition, the judges ruled that so-called “prior censorship” by the government “arbitrarily restricts the dissemination of ideas and content.”
The court’s ruling was celebrated by press organizations that claimed the Assembly’s proposed law was an attempt to restore the press “muzzle” instituted during the presidency of Rafael Correa. “This was a project by Correismo supporters in the Assembly to bring back the controls on free speech imposed 10 years ago,” said Fundamedios President César Ricaurte. “Even though this was thrown out by the previous Assembly, the Correa people continue their efforts to reimpose their rules and give government control over public discourse. Our hope is that these efforts have finally been put to rest.”
The Constitutional Court also objected to the Assembly’s provisions making it easier for private individuals to file libel and defamation suits and the Assembly’s designation of Ecuador’s Ombudsman Office to act as arbiter of permissible speech.
Lasso’s press office also applauded the ruling, calling it a “victory for free speech.” In a statement, Lasso said the government has no business “playing the truth police” and deciding what information is true or false. “This must be left up to the people of Ecuador, not determined by bureaucrats beholden to political actors.”