The National Assembly rejected President Guillermo Lasso’s proposal to revise the national communications law Thursday, voting instead for legislation that would impose stiff penalties on the media, journalists and commenters who “besmirch the honor and good name of citizens.”
Lasso called the legislation, presented by the UNES bloc, a “gag law” and a return to the “dictatorial policies of Correismo.” The president said he would veto the proposal, partially or in full, when it reaches his desk.
“I am categorically opposed to any law that restricts the right to freedom of expression and includes mechanisms for persecution,” Lasso said. “We witnessed the effects of this during the Correa administration and I will not allow its return. Beyond upholding constitutional rights, the government should not be the arbiter of freedom of speech.”
On its website, the Assembly claims the law protects the rights of citizens attacked in the press and social media, providing “expedition mechanisms for defense.” The law takes special aim at social media and other internet sites that provide commentary on current events and government activities.
In addition, the legislation instructs social communication companies to conduct their economic activities “in compliance with the standards set forth in the guiding principles of companies and human rights.”
The UNES Organic Law of Communication passed with 75 votes against 21 no’s and 30 abstentions. Lasso’s proposed Freedom of Expression Law was rejected when it received only 55 votes of the 70 needed to pass.
Newly elected National Assembly Vice President Marcela Holguín, member of the UNES bloc, defended the legislation. “This does not impose criminal sanctions but includes a regime of fines for those who are in violation. It intends to provide guidance and training for media operators and contributors.”
Opponents of the UNES law agreed with Lasso, calling it a “muzzle” on free expression. “This proposal would be a complete setback for freedom of expression. It would be a return to Correa’s ‘gag Law’”, Wilma Andrade of the Democractic Left said following the vote. “It would transform the Communications Council into a Correista-type Supercom, imposing prior censorship and subsequent liability. I’m glad to hear the president will veto it.”