People protest against Rafael Correa government Patricio Realpe/LatinContent/Getty Images

A Cautionary Tale for Media Regulators

For more than a decade, Ecuadorian journalists have increasingly felt the effects of repressive media and speech laws that were supposedly enacted in the "public interest." As other countries consider regulations to combat misinformation, the public and policymakers must understand how even well-meaning efforts can go badly wrong.

QUITO – To understand the possible consequences of US President Donald Trump’s constant denunciations of the press, one need look no further than Ecuador, where former President Rafael Correa’s government attacked the news media for years. During his 2007-2017 presidency, Correa implemented a raft of measures aimed at stifling press freedom. And, like Trump, he regularly used the media as a whipping boy to rally his supporters.

In 2015, Correa managed to pass a constitutional amendment re-categorizing communications as a public service, like water or electricity, thereby allowing for more state control over speech. And with the stated goal of ensuring “balanced media coverage,” he pushed through the 2013 Ecuadorian Communication Law, and enacted additional regulations allowing the government to crack down on journalists with fines, forced public apologies, and even prison sentences.

Like Trump, Correa would sometimes go on television or radio programs to denounce journalists by name; and his government repeatedly took news organizations to court. For example, Correa brought an $80 million lawsuit against El Universo, one of the country’s major newspapers. In the end, the paper was forced to pay $40 million in exchange for a “pardon.”