At the time of writing the media is an extremely controversial subject in Ecuador, as the Legislative Assembly contemplate a new Communication Law which the government say is necessary to control the excesses and errors of an inept sector but which many journalists and observers say will dangerously limit freedom of speech in the country.
Since Rafael Correa became president he has tried to attack much of the media and journalists wherever possible. From my perspective most of the media were highly partisan and critical of him during and after the election campaign which goes some way to explaining it. A lot of the time he is highly effective because he is usually better at communicating his message.
However, it seems to me that he wants to have a (personal) utopia where the media only comment on the good things he is doing and his constant criticism of those who criticize him have become tiresome and probably dangerous for the potential for freedom of speech in the country.
In order to get its message across the government has set up a TV channel, bought a newspaper, El Telegrafo, puts out a lot of TV advertising and longer “infocasts” under a law which requires the media to give the government free space or air time.
I think one positive consequence is that many journalists are a bit more measured and constructive in their criticism now.
Ecuadorian TV is generally a load of rubbish. The schedules are full of gossip shows and soap operas (and even they are all imported). The films are always years old. There’s barely any concept of cultural or educational programming (which to its great credit Ecuador TV is trying to do). That just leaves the news. The quality of broadcasting really plumbs the depths when there is a football match – there are two camera angles – the pitch and the dugout. The producer regularly cuts the commentary to introduce some adverts on the bottom of the screen and regardless of whether anyone is making a mazy run down the wing or there is a goal, the adverts continue until the end.
The main channels are Ecuavisa, Teleamazonas, Telerama and Canal Uno which are all private, TC Television and Gamavision which were part of businesses seized from the Isaias brothers who fled the country after the collapse of their bank and yet to be fully sold off and Ecuador TV, the state channel which at least makes programmes about Ecuadorian life and culture.
Radio is the most widely-available medium; there are hundreds of stations. Some stations in rural areas broadcast in indigenous languages.
The main daily newspapers are El Comercio and Hoy (produced in Quito) and El Universo and Expreso (produced in Guayaquil). Extra is the most popular tabloid and is good if you like looking at dead bodies.
Cell / Mobile phones
It seems like everyone has a cell phone (celular) in Ecuador, even in rural areas. I’m always amazed when I see people who do very badly-paid, unsalaried jobs pulling out their flashy flip phone. Cell phones are not cheap – you either have to be on an expensive contract or pay a high fee up front for pay as you go. Therefore it might be worth bringing your phone with you (get it unlocked first). There are three networks; Porta, Movistar and Alegro. Reception for all three is patchy. Call costs are coming down a bit but are still high, especially to call other networks, so you often see people carrying 2 or 3 phones.
The domestic telephone service was controlled by a couple of notoriously corrupt state companies. Now it is just one, CNT, though I’m not sure how much else has changed. It’s much cheaper to call landlines and the reception is fairly reliable across the country. However if you go to a phone cabin they charge you just as much as if you were calling a mobile.
Broadband internet is available almost everywhere although it is not very reliable outside the main urban areas. It’s not that expensive to get a basic connection in your house and you can also find many internet cafés and wi-fi zones in malls and some hostels. (If you set up your laptop in a mall check that no-one follows you when you leave).