Ecuadorean president vetoes law banning media

President &to=' target=_blank>Alfredo Palacio vetoed legislation Thursday that would have made it a crime for news media to broadcast or publish clandestinely recorded telephone conversations without permission from all participants.

The decision was announced by Palacio's communications secretary, Jose Toledo, who told reporters that lawmakers should meet with the president and Ecuador's news media to draft alternative legislation that does not "limit freedom of expression, because that simply cannot occur in a democracy."

The legislation had called for prison terms of up to nine years and fines as high as US$10,000 (Ђ8,500).

The bill's sponsor, conservative Congressman and former TV sports reporter Alfonso Harb, told Channel 4 television Thursday that he never intended to undercut press freedom.

The legislation targeted "those who tap phone calls between two people so that later it can be used to some advantage or for blackmail," Harb said.

The proposed law resulted from accusations of illegal phone tapping and electronic espionage by political figures in the months before ex-President Lucio Gutierrez's ouster last April. Several taped conversations, allegedly obtained illegally, were passed to media outlets and then broadcast.

The legislation, passed Nov. 30 and ratified in early December, was criticized by Ecuador's news media and foreign press organizations including Reporters Without Borders, which objected to the vague wording and stiff penalties.

"Journalism is based on a code of conduct and professional ethics that clearly exclude telephone espionage but the concept of express permission of the parties could be used unfairly against the media if, for example, a source later retracts," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

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