Ecuador suspends signal of private TV channel
December 23rd, 2009 - 14:34 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

Ecuadorean authorities yesterday took the Teleamazonas private channel off the air for three days in a move likely to fuel concern among President Rafael Correa’s critics over press freedom under his leftist government. Mr Correa has in the past called for Teleamazonas to be shut for transmitting false information and has lashed out at private stations he says are conspiring with business groups opposed to his socialist reforms in the Andean country.

Ecuador’s telecommunications regulator said Teleamazonas was punished because it had broadcast alarmist material about protests surrounding some of Correa’s local oil projects months earlier. “We have followed due process and have given Teleamazonas an opportunity to exercise its right to defence,” Telecommunications Superintendent Fabian Jaramillo told reporters.

Teleamazonas, viewed across the country and a station that has been critical of President Correa, said the measure was illegal and it was considering legal action. The station has been fined before over its coverage. It had been under investigation recently for violations of a law drafted by a military dictatorship nearly 35 years ago. “We consider this absolutely illegal,” Sebastian Corral, the channel’s director, told reporters.

President Correa says he is not attacking press freedom, but fighting powerful media barons who have for years gone unregulated. But his tough stance and actions against Teleamazonas could spark a negative public reaction, some analysts say.

The Ecuadorean leader says tighter regulation is needed, but his campaign parallels moves by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who refused to renew the licence of one broadcaster and threatens to shut another anti-government station.

The suspension came as the country’s lawmakers are debating creation of a government-controlled watchdog with powers to punish journalists in a measure critics say is a crackdown on media freedoms. President Correa, a US-trained economist, remains one of the country’s most popular presidents since coming to office promising to take on powerful elites many Ecuadoreans blame for years of political instability and corruption.