Communicates list of recommendations to President Daniel Ortega
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (January 27, 2009).—The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) today expressed concern and alarm at the gradual decline in freedom of expression resulting from the political intolerance generated by the President Daniel Ortega administration and accused the government of harassing independent news media and journalists and systematically restricting Nicaraguans’ right to movement, association and expression.
During its mission to Managua which began Sunday and is headed by IAPA President Enrique Santos Calderón, the free press organization met with Nicaraguan key players, among them representatives of political parties, federal lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and members of the Attorney General’s Office, leaders of non-governmental human rights organizations, businessmen, news media executives, reporters and opinion-makers.
The IAPA delegation expressed regret that President Ortega, as well as congressmen and officials of the ruling Sandinista Front party, declined to meet with the mission of nine journalists from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and the United States. The IAPA intended to listen to Ortega’s point of view and convey its concerns about the state of press freedom in his country.
The IAPA attributes Ortega’s snub to the climate of intolerance fostered by his government and demonstrated on a daily basis through its treatment of independent news media which are denied information, harassed by legal constraints or are discriminated against in the placement of official advertising. All, it warned, are actions that lead to self-censorship or silence dissenters whose role is to act as watchdogs over those in power. They praised the courage shown by the independent media and journalists in not bowing to pressure and standing by its belief that a free press is essential to upholding democracy.
Beyond the disrespectful and intolerant treatment of the independent press the IAPA was concerned that the government does not use state-owned media to provide a pluralistic view of news; rather, it has turned it into a propaganda machine and tool for libeling critics, sustaining its strong aversion to dialogue and dissent, withholding transparency and access to official information and encouraging reprisals through para-public sector shock troops against those who openly express their opinions. The IAPA considers these practices to be in direct contrast to the principles of rule of law, justice and democracy.
The IAPA mission called on President Ortega to honor his own words, spoken when he signed the Declaration of Chapultepec in 2001 and previously during the organization’s General Assembly in 1990 when he announced the repeal of laws that limited freedom of the press in the midst of a political campaign -- quoting his declaration that “We understand that for peace to advance some mistakes have to be corrected and, convinced that those corrections are a necessity, we have come to sign this Declaration of Chapultepec.”
“Now more than ever,” Santos Calderón stated, “we hope that he will honor those words and that Nicaraguans may rest assured that they will not be persecuted for what they say or write; only in that way will democratic rights be respected.”
The mission spoke well of the Nicaraguan Attorney General’s decision to hold up criminal prosecution of non-governmental organizations such as CINCO, headed by journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, and expressed hope that the Interior Ministry would not pursue administrative reprisals that could harm foreign donor commitments in support of projects to aid Nicaraguans beyond those run by the government.
With regard to the news media and journalists, mission members gathered complaints that will be put together in a special report to be presented during the organization’s March Midyear Meeting in Paraguay. The mission also announced its concern that the independent press is subject to being rewarded or punished by the government either through placement of official advertising or its being withheld, or through the granting or not of licenses – actions used to put pressure on broadcast media to fire commentators whose views differ from the government’s and hire those that share their views. In addition to the manipulation of government handouts the IAPA rejects the use of legal action against journalists in clear retaliation for their editorial policies and viewpoints and upholds that by granting tax exemptions and allowing obligatory union membership of journalists the government is in stark contrast to its own Constitution.
Based on resolutions adopted at its membership meetings the IAPA makes the following recommendations to ensure the re-establishment of guarantees for freedom of the press in Nicaragua:
● Comply with the principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec.
● Observe and practice the access to public information law; support public awareness campaigns so that citizens may exercise the search and access rights provided for in that legislation; in addition improve open and transparent procedures with the press, providing information and holding news conferences periodically.
● Manage the news media in the hands of the government with the policies of plurality and diversity inherent to public information and not as instruments of governmental propaganda.
● Distribute official advertising transparently and based on technical criteria; grant radio and television operating licenses without using them to discriminate among media and journalists according to their editorial policies.
● Within the Attorney General’s Office create a special human rights division to investigate violations of such rights, including those that go against the freedoms of expression and the press, crimes against or attacks upon journalists, and provide special oversight of safety and protection for the unfettered practice of journalism.
● Review sentences and court rulings concerning the murders of Carlos Guadamuz and María José Bravo, so that these crimes do not remain unpunished.
IAPA Vice President Gonzalo Marroquín declared, “If this government observed the Declaration of Chapultepec it would already have the tools to be a more democratic and open government respectful of constitutional rights.”
For his part, Bob Rivard, chairman of the IAPA’s Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, expressed surprise at the level of tension existing between the government and journalists in Nicaragua. He declared that what was needed was “for President Daniel Ortega to think again and stop encouraging people who attack journalists, through inappropriate remarks, so further incidents of intimidation and violence are prevented.”
Accompanying Santos Calderón, editor of the Bogotá, Colombia, newspaper El Tiempo, Marroquín, editor of Prensa Libre of Guatemala City, Guatemala, and Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, Texas, were IAPA International Affairs Committee Chairman Jorge Canahuati, La Prensa, Honduras; José Roberto Dutriz, regional vice chairman of the Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, editor of La Prensa Gráfica, El Salvador; Ed McCullough, regional editor for Latin America of The Associated Press, United States; Liza Gross, Latin America correspondent of The Miami Herald, Florida; Executive Director Julio E. Muñoz, and Press Freedom Director Ricardo Trotti.