Written by Jackie Kochell
On Friday, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador addressed a crowd of journalists, students, and academics at Columbia University in New York. His speech, entitled “Vulnerable Societies: Media and Democracy in Latin America,” was delivered on the heels of an appeals court decision on September 20 to uphold a criminal libel conviction involving Correa.
In February, the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo published an opinion column titled “NO a las mentiras” (NO to lies), which referred to Correa as a dictator and, as the president claims, included unfounded information.
The case, which led to a sentence of multi-million dollar fines and prison time for the writer and two newspaper directors, is one that Correa hopes will set a precedence for defamation in the country. Ecuador currently does not have clear defamation laws, which complicates issues of reputation for public figures and the function of a free press.
During his speech at Columbia, Correa emphasized the need for preservation of honor in the press while still allowing freedom of expression. As he told the crowd, “We live in a world where the media, with its media power, has tried to replace the Rule of Law with the Rule of Opinion.”
From a public diplomacy standpoint, the Rule of Opinion and the need for free speech must be balanced. The writer’s intent needs to be taken into account. Was the article an act of seditious libel, or a strongly-worded statement on current affairs?
That was the main point of discussion -or debate, depending on how you look at it- during the Q&A of Correa’s speech. For an audio clip of an exchange between Correa and a member of the Committee to Protect Journalists, click here.