Encouraged by that legal victory, Correa has moved to further restrict press freedom. Last month, Ecuador’s national assembly approved a media law that seriously limits what journalists can cover about political candidates during elections. The broadly worded law states that the media “will refrain from direct or indirect promotion, either through reports, specials or any other form of messaging, which would indicate a preference for or against a particular candidate, political principle, opinion, preference, electoral or political platform.” As concerned journalists have rightly pointed out, this amounts to a form of preemptive government censorship of election coverage. But with Correa set to seek reelection in 2013, it’s clear why his government would wish to be the arbiter of acceptable election coverage. Indeed, Correa has already taken on that role, regularly launching into long diatribes against “ignorant” journalists and other media “liars” on national television.
Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega has also used his office to inveigh against the press. Journalists who dare to question his government find themselves denounced by Ortega as “devils,” “children of Goebels,” and “enemies of the Nicaraguan people.” If there were any illusions that the former Sandinista revolutionary is a reformed democrat, his attacks on the press have thoroughly dispelled them. In addition to personally berating journalists and creating a climate of intimidation against the press, Ortega has tried to silence critical media with defamation suits. Shunning all interviews, he has preferred to have pro-government media read his personal prepared statements, yet another way of silencing the independent press.
These are not isolated incidents. Determined to rule unopposed, Latin America’s new generation of autocrats have trampled on the democratic process in their countries and rigged the judiciaries to keep themselves in power. The independent media, or what remains of it, represents their last visible opposition. If they succeed in eliminating it, freedom in their countries will surely follow.
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