251,287 cables indexed
Reference ID: 09QUITO801
Subject: CORREA,S STEADY VERBAL ASSAULT ON MEDIA CREATES HOSTILE CLIMATE
Origin: Embassy Quito, Ecuador Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Created:02 Sep 2009 Released:13 Apr 2011
Tags: EC, KPAO, PGOV, PHUM

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This cable has been published by El Universo (Ecuador).

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C O N F I D E N T I A L QUITO 000801

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: TWENTY YEARS
TAGS: PHUM, PGOV, KPAO, EC
SUBJECT: CORREA,S STEADY VERBAL ASSAULT ON MEDIA CREATES
HOSTILE CLIMATE

REF: A. QUITO 00791
B. QUITO 00437

Classified By: Ambassador Heather Hodges for Reasons 1.4 (b, d)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Upon being sworn in for his second
presidential term on August 10, Rafael Correa showed no sign
of letting up his verbal assault against the privately-owned
media. On the contrary, Correa proclaimed the press to be
his "greatest adversary" over the last 31 months of his first
term. Verbal aggressions against the press have become a
regular feature in his weekly radio and television addresses,
and the increase in harassment cases against journalists have
many in the profession concerned about the intensifying
hostile climate. Many perceive the President's systematic
attacks as an intentional strategy to discredit the press and
further consolidate power, although how far he will go
remains unclear. END SUMMARY.

CORREA'S CRY FOR BATTLE

2. (SBU) On August 10, in his 90-minute inaugural address,
Correa once again lashed out at the press, which he referred
to as his "greatest adversary," apparently more important
than troubled relations with Colombia, worsening border
security, and growing urban crime. Furthermore, Correa
discredited the press for having a "clear political role in
spite of not having any political legitimacy." This type of
rhetoric is a continuation of the tone of Correa's weekly
radio and television addresses (reftel B). In March, Correa
dismissed the Inter-American Press Association's mid-year
report, based on the organization's lack of "moral authority"
due to the fact they never won an election. He regularly
refers to the privately-owned press as "mediocre and
corrupt," and asserts that it "manipulates public opinion,"
"lies" and "publishes garbage." In May, Correa stated that
the press was "a grave political enemy (that) needs to be
defeated" and listed the alleged "worst" media outlets in
terms of corruption--Hoy, El Universo, and La Hora.

3. (SBU) The national privately-owned media has been the
primary target of Correa's criticism, with the less affluent
and less influential provincial and local newspapers
receiving less attention and therefore less pressure.
According to Correa, independent media outlets and their
elitist owners have "historically lined up with the
oligarchy," and "there exists a contradiction" between their
commercial agendas and the social service of providing
information that the press is obliged to fulfill. A number
of Embassy sources, including journalists, editors, and
representatives of professional associations and nonprofit
media think tanks and NGOs, stated that in spite of the
President's complaints about elitists, his tactic of
generalized vilification of the press is hurting journalists
on the front line and not the owners.

CORREA SPENDS $11 MILLION ON PUBLICITY--TELEAMAZONAS GETS
$1.3 MILLION

4. (SBU) Ironically, Correa's strategy to discredit the press
would be less effective without the press itself and
specifically the private press. According to a recent report
by Vanguardia, the presidency, excluding ministries and other
dependent entities, has spent 11 million dollars on
television, radio and newspaper publicity since the beginning
of 2008. Based on figures provided by the Under Secretary
for Image, Publicity and Promotion of the Presidency, the
greatest recipient of this spending has been Teleamazonas,
the independent station threatened with closure by the
administration (reftel A and B), with almost 1.3 million
dollars in state advertising funds.

CALCULATED STRATEGY TO DELEGITIMIZE THE PRESS

5. (C) The stream of public attacks and criticism by the
Ecuadorian government against the press has been a cause for
concern among those in the profession. Various media
contacts of the Embassy have described the current climate
for journalists as "hostile" and a direct result of Correa's
public censure of the press. They also described Correa's
"systematic" aggression against the media at large as a
calculated "strategy" to "delegitimize" the only noteworthy
opposition to the current government. According to Embassy
contacts, Correa's approach does not allow for any due
process or formal rebuttal from the press because they are
not legal actions but verbal accusations (although reftel A

and upcoming septel detail legal actions taken). In spite of
rough patches with past governments, there is consensus that
this steady assault by Correa's administration is an
unprecedented phenomenon in Ecuador. They also noted that
Correa's repeated attacks against the press have set an
example for other high-level government officials to exhibit
similar behavior.

CLIMATE OF FEAR

6. (C) Correa's verbal attacks of the private media are being
increasingly emulated among the general public. According to
the Ecuadorian media advocacy and watch group, Fundamedios,
instances of harassment, threats and physical attacks against
journalists and other media professionals are on the rise.
Statistics show that the average number of incidents since
July 2008 was less than seven per month but with a steady
increase throughout the year, and June and July of 2009
exhibiting the highest numbers of 12 and 16 incidents,
respectively. Cesar Recaurte, Fundamedios director, also
noted that in many cases, the attackers repeat Correa's
language of a "corrupt and mediocre media."

7. (C) Well-known Teleamazonas anchorman Jorge Ortiz told
Embassy Public Affairs officers that there "clearly exists a
climate of fear and danger for journalists." Ortiz, a
straight-talking and often aggressive interviewer on his
daily morning talk show, has been the target of numerous
verbal and physical assaults this year, including having his
car sideswiped while he was driving near the TV station,
another physical assault while he was walking down the
street, and most recently, a verbal insult in a Quito
shopping center by a stranger yelling out "How much does the
CIA pay you?," a direct reference to allegations made by
Correa's ex-Security Minister Gustavo Larrea.

SELF-CENSORSHIP--A REAL CONCERN?

8. (C) Although the occurrence of self-censorship is a real
concern, the jury is still out as to the degree of its
prevalence. Intimidation felt by journalists and the
management of media outlets to tone down any criticism of the
government is much more difficult to quantify than an upsurge
in harassment cases or minutes Correa dedicates to his weekly
address to insulting the media. However, a few high-profile
cases of individuals quitting due to political pressures have
demonstrated that some level of self-censorship exists. In
March of this year, Jose Toledo, former vice president of
news for the government-confiscated stations (GamaTV, TC
Television and CN3 Cablenoticias) resigned due to what he
claimed to be political pressure to favor government
candidates in April's elections. The following month, Carlos
Vera, a former star of Ecuavisa left the station after
Ecuavisa management put restrictions on his program's
content. While the station may have been giving into
government pressure, other factors may have been involved.
That said, Vera later claimed that freedom of expression was
being restricted by the climate created by Correa's attacks
against the press. Journalists from local and provincial
media outlets have told EmbOff that they are cautious not to
be critical of the current administration because they feel
vulnerable.

COMMENT

9. (C) The current hostile climate created by Correa's verbal
confrontation with the press is disconcerting for many
long-time media professionals. As Alfredo Negrete, former
editor of El Comercio and current president of the Ecuadorian
Press Editors Association, noted to EmbOff, Ecuador is far
from being a country in which journalists fear for their
lives. However, the "direction in which we are heading is
unclear." Correa's weekly public scoldings have journalists
and editors fearful and is potentially limiting the space for
free expression.

10. (C) Correa has also shown himself to be somewhat of a
pragmatist. In spite of his nearly constant criticism of
Teleamazonas, a station that he has singled out and
threatened with closure (reftel A and B), he has yet to make
any explicit illegal moves. A few days following Correa's
August 29 public demand to shut down Teleamazonas for airing
a clandestine audio of Correa regarding alleged illegal
changes to the constitution's text (reftel A), the
administration's spokesman threw some water on the fire and
said that "the President does not necessarily know the laws"

and that the station can only be fined, not shut down. That
said, septel will provide more details on the regulatory,
economic and legal actions Correa has taken to restrict the
press within the limits of the law.
HODGES