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30-08-2012

Rafael Correa, Julian Assange and the Freedom of Speech

Montserrat Boix

The decision made by Ecuador to grant asylum to Julian Assange -after nearly two months of hosting him at the Embassy in London- has fueled up an international debate and has put the issue of freedom of speech back on the table. Some European and Latin American media have seized the opportunity to criticize the President of Ecuador Rafael Correa, on the foundations that he supports Assange while he restricts this claimed freedom of speech in his very country.

Allow me to make a comment on the side to remind the public that for women, excluded and invisible in traditional media, the matter of communication has always been a strategic topic. Therefore, at Women Networking (Mujeres en Red) we consider that the right of citizens to communication and information is above the corporate interests of media companies, with increasingly monopolistic dynamics; hence, we have been following the Ecuadorian process very closely for quite some time.

Deepening the discussion becomes mandatory not only in the case of Ecuador, but also because we will witness -and we have already witnessed- similar cases in other Latin American countries. I apologize for my being a little too schematic and this topic is without a doubt very complex and nuanced.

Many private and some public media — in a spillover effect — have taken advantage of this case to criticize Rafael Correa for his confrontation with the privately-owned media in Ecuador – having stated that it is his way of ’washing his hands’ of what is happening in the country.

The debate on the democratization of information has been, for many years, a focus of work in Ecuador. In fact, the new Ecuadorian Constitution is the first — and I believe it is still the only one — incorporating the right of citizens not only to information but also to communication, i.e. the two-way process of not only consuming information, but the recognition of the right of citizens to produce it.

Information can no longer be considered a commodity: it is a public service and as such the entire population should be guaranteed access to it. Therefore, in what concerns communication, the weight of power is granted to the citizens and not media. To delve into the theoretical-political framework, I recommend this text: Right to Communication, an Emerging Right (El derecho a la comunicación: un derecho emergente [1]]), which includes an interesting analysis from the perspective of the modifications introduced by TICs.

Almost all privately-owned media in Latin America have taken up a brutal position; in some countries almost coup-like, against the left-wing/progressive governments that have emerged in recent years. In each country, each government has grappled with the situation according to its possibilities, with more or less confrontation: Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina…

In the case of Ecuador, the preparation of a Media Act has been complex because it refers to many interests (you can watch the debate on the website of the Ecuadorian Forum of Communication: http://forocomecuador.blogspot.com/).

Among the first decisions Correa made when he took power — he became president in 2007 — was the creation of public media, because Ecuador only had private media and community media in the past. The definition of public media, incidentally, is also being currently discussed... and not only in Ecuador.

As a result of the work undertaken on the new Media Act, the public started to debate about the allocation of the radiofrequency spectrum and private companies, which previously had complete control over them, and observed how their portion of the cake was going to be reduced... they would now have to share it with public media and community media, so they decided to further tighten the screws and put more pressure on Correa and his Government.

In many countries, when the private media start wars against Governments, the latter give in. The power of PRISA — spanning through Santillana and other companies in some key countries of Latin America, for instance, Colombia — and the media controlled by the Church and other stone-age powers is manifest in Spain. In Ecuador, Correa has decided to face them. And one of the things that he has done, by the way, is to remove institutional advertising — which moves a lot of money — from these media.

It is interesting to listen to Rafael Correa on his Saturday programme (broadcasted by public television) — it can be considered somewhat populist, but it is also an excellent exercise of transparency that I would love to see in Europe with the kind of people we have in power — where the issue of communication is always crucial.

I believe that sometimes the way Correa addresses privately-owned media, his manners... are not the most appropriate... but without a doubt, the context justifies it. Removing power from the private media is essential to develop political projects with a greater social component, because it very often occurs in Latin America that the interests of the private media are linked with the right and extreme right-wing interests of these countries.

Other cases to take into consideration: the President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos and his family own a media empire. What could we not say, indeed, about Berlusconi in Italy... Anyway...

In this sense, the speech of Assange and the practice of transparency of Wikileaks is undoubtedly a strategic element of the battles being fought in Latin America, and let us not forget, all around the world.

I am concerned that the accusations against Assange are related to alleged sexual abuse and I would have liked him to have made a mention of the topic during his public appearance, even if only to deny it. It is true that his attorney, Baltasar Garzón, has confirmed the willingness of Assange to declare before the Swedish courts on this subject and holds open the possibility of his being questioned at the Embassy in London, something that would be legally possible and which would guarantee that Assange would be not extradited to a third country. This opinion is shared by the Government of Ecuador in the official document on the reasons for which it granted diplomatic asylum to Julian Assange.

Nevertheless... Personally, I do not like Assange one bit; however, here I am defending his protection. By the way, I feel much more identified with the citizen policies and the so-called ‘citizen revolution’ of Correa, with all its contradictions. And I understand and find interesting the alliance that has been established.

P.-S.

Más articulos en la revista digital: De política, soberanías y Assange

Notas

[1] [María Paula Saffon, FES, Bogotá, 2007.


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