Although the 1979 Constitution accords Ecuadorians the right to freedom of opinion and expression of thought, media ownership has remained concentrated in the hands of a few large interests. In the late 1980s, all media were privately controlled, except the National Radio (Radio Nacional), which was operated by the government's ministerial-level National Communications Secretariat (Secretaría Nacional de Comunicaciones--Senac), previously called the National Secretariat for Public Information (Secretaría Nacional de Información Pública--Sendip) under the Febres Cordero administration. The government, however, controlled the allocation of radio and television frequencies. Historically, most media owners endorsed the political status quo and gave tacit support to right-wing governments and even to dictatorships. In the 1980s, however, conservative interests were less dominant in radio than in television and the written press.
The Febres Cordero government used the media systematically in an effort to gain media support for its free-market economic policies, and in the process it infringed on press freedom. For example, in late 1984 the government temporarily closed five radio stations--four in Guayaquil and one in Quito--after they broadcast Guayaquil mayor Abdalá Bucaram's censure of Febres Cordero. The government also used economic means of pressure, such as suspending its substantial public-sector advertising in the center-left daily Hoy and the monthly magazine Nueva, as well as pressuring private banks and companies not to advertise in these publications. As a result, the independent media initially omitted or toned down criticism of the government. However, two prestigious inter-American media associations criticized the Febres Cordero government for alleged violations of press freedom. In a report released in March 1985, the Inter-American Press Association accused the government of intolerance toward the independent press and a lack of objectivity in government press releases. In addition, many opposition journalists complained that the government was using legal or pseudo-legal devices and pretexts to reduce further the already limited space available to the minority press. In 1987 opposition radio and television stations continued to experience government attempts to stifle the media. The ability of the government to pressure state and private companies to discriminate against the independent media diminished following the erosion of Febres Cordero's standing and influence.
On taking office in August 1988, Borja vowed to uphold freedom of the press and appointed various journalists to high-level governmental posts. The Senac, composed of new members appointed by Borja, undertook efforts to make the government accessible to the media and to promote freedom of the press. Senac also abolished the progovernment simulcasts initiated by the Febres Cordero administration and allowed Channel 5 in Quito to resume broadcasting in August 1988, after being closed for four years.
Ecuador had ten principal television stations in the late 1980s. The country's commercial radio stations numbered over 260, including 10 cultural and 10 religious stations. The "Voice of the Andes" station had operated for more than fifty years as an evangelical Christian shortwave radio service supported largely by contributions from the United States.
Ecuador had only thirty daily newspapers in the late 1980s. The newspapers with the largest circulations, El Comercio and El Universo, were published in Quito and Guayaquil respectively. Founded in the 1920s, they were closely connected with each city's small but powerful business community in the 1980s. Quito and Guayaquil each had four dailies. Quito's largest newspaper, El Comercio, was conservative and had a circulation of 130,000. El Comercio also owned an evening newspaper, #Ultimas Notícias. The Quito-based Hoy, founded in the early 1980s, had a circulation in 1987 of between 35,000 and 40,000. Guayaquil's El Universo was independent and had a circulation of between 120,000 and 190,000 on weekdays and 225,000 on Sundays. Guayaquil's second newspaper, Expreso, published evening newspapers in both cities: Extra in Guayaquil and La Hora in Quito. Some ten international news agencies had bureaus in Quito.
The principal weekly periodicals that covered political and economic affairs were Quito's La Calle, with a circulation of 20,000, and Guayaquil's Análisis Semanal and Vistazo. Nueva, with a circulation of between 12,000 and 14,000, was founded in the early 1970s as an alternative magazine oriented to those sectors of the population that were under-represented by the traditional press, such as trade union workers, intellectuals, and Indians.
Among Ecuador's ten principal publishers, only Editorial Claridad and Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, published books on politics. According to the United States Department of State in the late 1980s, there was no political censorship of domestic or foreign books, films, or works of art, and no government interference with academic inquiry.
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