President Guillermo Lasso announced Thursday he will totally veto changes to the communication law proposed by the National Assembly. A total veto means the legislation cannot be reconsidered for at least a year.
Lasso announced his decision, which was expected, during a speech at the independence day ceremony in Quito. “As Ecuador observes the first cry for independence, I am reminded that the freedom we sought 213 years ago included the freedom to say what we believed, not what an arbitrary authority said we could say,” he said.
In earlier comments, Lasso objected to changes to the law made by the National Assembly which would establish government oversight of the media and develop new rules for social media. “We already have laws to protect personal reputations and don’t need an agency to decide what the truth is relating to public matters.”
The veto announcement follows the rejection by the National Assembly of Lasso’s proposed changes to the current law in July, voting instead for legislation that would impose 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.”
On its website, the Assembly claims the law protects the rights of citizens attacked in the press and social media, providing “expeditious mechanisms for remedies.” The law takes special aim at social media and other internet sites that provide commentary on current events and government activities it considers “untrue or inaccurate”.
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 based on the legislation.”
Opponents of the UNES legislation called 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 encourage the president to apply a total veto.”
The Network of Free Journalists, an international non-profit organization, was one of half a dozen NGOs calling on Lasso to veto the revised law. “If allowed to go into effect, this legislation would be an instrument for political revenge, just as the communication law enacted during the Rafael Correa regime proved to be,” the network said in a press release. “We call on the president to veto the proposal and preserve the constitutional right to free speech and a free press in Ecuador.”