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Ecuador president approves new antitrust law

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa [official website, in Spanish; BBC profile] on Tuesday enacted an antitrust law, provisions of which further his conflict with the country's news media. The new law specifically bars [AP report] news media owners and bankers from holding financial stakes in other industries and generally bars companies from establishing a monopoly in any industry. The law provides until July 2012 for media owners and bankers to divest their interests in other industries with those in violation facing the possibility of a fine based on the amount of their investments. While the law was approved by voters in a May referendum and had little trouble passing through Congress on September 29, it has been criticized by the country's business community. In a radio interview [audio, in Spanish], Correa articulated his support for the new law and cited the success of similar longstanding laws in the US and Chile.

Correa's problems with the Ecuadorian news media stem both from his belief that they are corrupt and from a criminal libel suit he initiated earlier this year. In July, Correa won his criminal libel claim [JURIST report] against the owners and a columnist of newspaper El Universo, resulting in fines of USD $40 million and a three-year sentence for the offending journalist and editors. Emilio Palacio [Twitter account], Nicholas Perez, Cesar Perez and Carlos Perez, the owners of El Universo, were personally fined $30 million in addition to their sentences, while the newspaper itself was fined $10 million for printing the article. Palacio's editorial, "No to the Lies!" was published in February 2011 and referenced an incident in September 2010 when protesting police officers fired tear gas at Correa, surrounded the hospital at which he was being treated and trapped him there for 12 hours. Palacio's editorial criticized Correa for pardoning the criminals and suggested he was doing so because the "attempted coup" was staged to increase his political power [JURIST report]. In a statement [El Ciudadano, in Spanish], Correa called the suit one of his greatest legacies, and that now the Ecuadoran "corrupt press" know they cannot "damage the honor of a person."

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