Ecuador endured one of its most violent episodes in its recent history six years ago when a rebellion of rogue police and military officials tried to overthrow the left-wing government of President Rafael Correa.
But one overlooked facet of this failed coup is the crucial role the right-wing media had, as it has in most modern destabilization plans in the region.
A police rebellion broke in a few cities in Ecuador, as the National Assembly discussed the approval of the Public Service Law. The group of officers who rebelled wrongly alleged their benefits and bonuses would be affected by the law. Former Chief of the Joint Command of the Armed Forces Ernesto Gonzalez said on that same day, that the rebellion was caused by false rumors and manipulation of information, and that the officers on strike had not even read the law.
President Correa, after an attempt to begin a dialogue, was detained by a group of police in the capital city of Quito for over 10 hours inside the National Police Hospital. He was eventually rescued by the Army, after throughout the day 10 people died and 300 were injured.
The police's stated intention was to kill Correa, as it was heard through police radio that he “wouldn’t come out alive.” This sad episode in Ecuadorean history is known as 30-S.
Paving the way for general discontent
An independent investigation of the role of the media concluded that before 30-S, right-wing media that disapproved of Correa’s government distorted the content of the Public Service Law and fomented discontent and ire among some police officers.
President Correa accused them of spreading lies and being in cahoots with those officers who wanted to overthrow the government.
Before the tragic events took place, a group of policemen had occupied their building in Quito and announced they wouldn’t patrol the streets due to their discontent.
One of Correa’s strongest opposition TV stations, Teleamazonas had already installed their cameras and had a broadcasting system ready before the group of policemen even announced their actions, one step ahead of the agitators. Teleamazonas was also the only outlet allowed inside the premises and its crew was respected and protected by the police.
Another group of officers occupied Quito’s airport and only allowed Teleamazonas to film and interview them.
After the damage was done, Teleamazonas and Ecuavisa, another strong opponent of Correa’s policies, turned to broadcasting soap operas, thus trying to assure Ecuadoreans that nothing was happening.
Teleamazonas producer and news host Milton Pérez sent a tweet a day before, on Sept. 29, to a reporter at the Colombian newspaper NTN24 telling him to “pay full attention to what might happen in Ecuador, these days will be crucial and could become very intense.”
Keeping the flame alive
Teleamazonas again, broadcasting from the occupied sites, spread panic and reported that there will not be any police working throughout the whole country and that looting and robbery would be rampant.
The reporter insisted that the protests were nationwide, when in fact only seven of the 24 provinces of the country reported some small police protests.
Their own reporter Freddy Paredes announced live that he had received a call from an anonymous military member who asked him to “communicate” to the country that the Armed Forces were also joining the police protest.
A small group of low-ranking members of the Air Force took over an air base in Quito, and a smaller number of military members protested outside the Ministry of Defense.
Just minutes after this, high-ranking military members emphatically rejected the attempted coup during a press conference.
Meanwhile, public media reported on thousands of citizens arriving outside the Presidential Palace in support of democracy.
"Media ceased to be mediators and became actors," said Rodolfo Muñoz, a correspondent for CNN in Spanish in Ecuador.
According to other reporters, like Santiago Maldonado, Muñoz left the station because he wasn’t allowed to explain the reality behind the police rebellion.
Muñoz “quit because the editors of that TV station wanted him to say that the police rebellion of 30-S didn’t go further than that, even though every Ecuadorian knows this was a vulgar failed coup.”
Muñoz announced he was resigning and directed a documentary on the events of 30-S.
Discrediting, false accusations and lawsuits
After the country slowly recovered from this attack on democracy, a commission was created to investigate the reasons behind the failed overthrow.
Carlos Baca, the lead investigator in the 30-S commission, said that one of the steps taken by the coup promoters was to delegitimize the government, which was done through the media.
“We have insisted in pointing out that some private media participated and had a major impact in this atmosphere to delegitimize the government because everything that was focused on the action of the public policy of the government had a negative bias," said Baca.
Furthermore, the Catholic University in Ecuador published a study by scholar Isabel Paz y Miño, in which they analyzed 323 editorials and opinion articles from El Comercio, Hoy, Expreso and El Universo throughout October 2010.
Specifically, from the 82 editorial pages, only eight condemned or criticized the actions of the police forces, 16 criticized the National Assembly, 28 said it was the president's fault, and 30 said it was not an attempted coup.
According to the report, the majority of the articles were focused on saying that the rebellion was not an attempted coup, and instead blamed President Correa for his own abduction.
Media even accused Correa of planning and provoking the violent events in order to win popularity, an absurd allegation as the left-wing president held an approval rating of more than 80 percent at the time.
In one of the most brazen cases, a writer for El Universo called Correa a dictator and accused him of “ordering to fire at will and without a previous warning against a hospital full of civilians and innocent people.”
Correa took the writer to court for defamation and eventually won since the journalist insulted and accused the president of killing people. After a long battle El Universo lost the case and was ordered to pay a million dollar fine and its directors were sentenced to prison. But Correa decided to pardon the newspaper.