Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 11
Political Influences: 19
Economic Pressures: 11
Total Score: 41

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 71
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (95 percent), other (5 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Mestizo (65 percent), Amerindian (25 percent), white (7 percent), black (3 percent)
Capital: Quito

The constitution guarantees freedom of the press. However, President Lucio Gutierrez and his administration maintained an aggressive attitude toward the press that undermined freedom of expression. For example, presidential spokesperson Ivan Ona warned in September that those who criticize the government would face legal action and that licenses of media outlets critical of the administration could be stripped. On October 29, a three-judge Supreme Court panel upheld a one-month jail sentence (which was then suspended owing partly to the defendant's old age) against Rodrigo Fierro, a journalist with the daily El Comercio. Fierro had been convicted of criminal defamation after writing a column criticizing former president and current parliamentary representative Leon Febres-Cordero. To its credit, Ecuador made progress on the issue of public transparency in 2004. In May, President Gutierrez signed into law a Freedom of Information Act, which requires public institutions to provide access to all records except those involving national security.

Given that defamation and slander remain criminal offenses punishable by up to three years in prison, self-censorship is widely practiced, especially in reports on the military and other politically sensitive cases. Indeed, a journalist's failure to self-censor can be risky. In January, the news director at Radio Quito received several threatening phone calls after he reported on corruption involving the armed forces and relatives of the president. Carlos Munoz Insua, president of the Telesistema television station, escaped harm in a February attack by unidentified gunmen; his driver was killed. An armed group claimed responsibility, citing the station's refusal to broadcast its statements.

The press is independent except for one government-owned radio station, and media ownership is broadly based and represents a range of editorial viewpoints. However, media are required to grant the government space and broadcast time, according to a law issued by the previous military regime; the government used this law to require the broadcast of government-produced programs featuring the president and other officials.

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