The Supreme Court has yet to rule on various appeals regarding the constitutionality of the law establishing the Colegio de Periodistas (the government-sanctioned journalists’ association). The provision requiring membership in the association as a condition for practicing journalism has not yet been implemented, and leaders of the organization claim that membership is not compulsory even though the law states that only those who belong to the Colegio may practice journalism. The Law on Access to Public Information was passed on May 16, and while the Violeta Chamorro Foundation of Nicaragua and the Carter Center of the United States described this law as positive overall, they criticized the last-minute additions to Article 46 imposing restrictions on the profession. The second paragraph of Article 46 states that “this right to access shall be exercised responsibly, by providing information of public interest to society in a complete, accurate, duly investigated and balanced way using whatever sources are fitting and appropriate.” “This is not an invention of the National Assembly; it is part of the model law that serves as inspiration to all member countries of the inter-American system. It is not an attempt to regulate, because it establishes no coercive obligation, i.e. there is no mandatory penalty for not complying with this standard,” claimed legislator José Pallais, a member of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party and chairman of the National Assembly’s Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs. Another article stipulates that much of the information generated by the Army is to be classified, though the commander in chief stated that nothing is secret, as both the purchase and destruction of weapons must be approved by the National Assembly. Articles 4 and 19 of the law state that the financial situation of government officials is private information protected by the Law on the Probity of Public Servants, which says that information on their assets is not public. The administration of Daniel Ortega has yet to publish the regulations for the Law on Access to Public Information. The coalition advocating for this law, which includes the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation, submitted a set of proposed regulations on August 15. The government continues to operate under a veil of secrecy. Culture Minister Margine Gutiérrez was fired and sociologist Óscar René Vargas’s appointment as ambassador to France was revoked because both of them gave interviews to La Prensa newspaper. Vargas later said that his freedom was worth more than Paris. This climate of secrecy has been accompanied by attacks on the independent media, especially La Prensa and Channel 2 Television. A freeze remains on government advertising, which only appears in media outlets that belong to the ruling party or that have close ties to the government, or on highway billboards. Journalists from La Prensa are still banned from covering certain government-sponsored events. On March 1 President Ortega signed a document with the Colegio de Peroidistas agreeing, among other things, to place government advertising fairly, as small and midsized news outlets were favored over large outlets. The President has not complied with this agreement, and the National Journalists Association (APN) is protesting by staging sit-ins every Friday. Miguel D’Escoto, former foreign minister and presidential adviser on international relations, said, “If Nicaragua had the crime of high treason on the books, which it doesn’t, and if Nicaragua also had the death penalty — in the United States they have the crime of high treason and they also have the death penalty by lethal injection, the electric chair or gas chamber — if Nicaragua had that, all the people from La Prensa would have left this world a long time ago.” He went on to say that the newspaper had played a “despicable role” in the 1980s. He also called El Nuevo Diario “the new unpatriotic newspaper” and bemoaned its “anti-Daniel” bias. La Prensa journalist Óscar González was excluded from covering a public event related to “Mission Milagro” that the Venezuelan embassy in Nicaragua was holding at Managua International Airport. A member of the security team cited “instructions from above.” Article 68 of the Nicaraguan Constitution was amended in February 2005 to grant tax-exempt status to paper, machinery, equipment, and replacement parts used by media outlets. Added to the amended article was the lone statement: “The Tax Law will regulate the matter.” Also amended was Article 17 of Law 528, also known as the Tax Law. This amendment limits tax exemptions to a percentage of the declared income of each media outlet: 2.5% for large outlets and 5% for small outlets. This amendment is known as the Arce Act, after Bayardo Arce, the member of the Chamber of Deputies who sponsored the measure. A number of print, radio and television media outlets filed an appeal with the Supreme Court asking that the law be found unconstitutional, on the grounds that it did not regulate the constitutional mandate but rather amended it, and that it was passed before the constitutional amendment was enacted. Former President Enrique Bolaños, who deemed the measure unconstitutional pending the ruling of the Supreme Court, ordered the customs authority to not charge taxes, but forced media outlets to sign agreements to pay. The media outlets sought to have the current legislature repeal the Arce Act and issue regulations on the machinery and inputs that would be exempt. These initiatives were well received by the majority in Parliament, but not by the Sandinista party. After the bill was sent to committee in August, the customs authority started charging not only on new orders but on previous payment agreements, and it released a statement claiming that La Prensa owed more than 13 million cordobas (US$750,000) in back taxes. All state-run media outlets embarked on a campaign to show that La Prensa had failed to pay its taxes and was trying to avoid paying them. La Prensa explained that this was false and that it pays all its taxes — US$1.8 million in 2006 — and pointed out that the alleged debt is unconstitutional. La Prensa had filed a petition for injunctive relief in August against these collection efforts, and this petition was granted after all administrative recourse was exhausted and the petition went to the Supreme Court. Under Article 234 of the Central American Customs Code, a challenged ruling must be suspended as soon as the petition for relief is granted. Despite this, and even though La Prensa still had the right to exemptions under the Arce Act, the customs authority withheld paper from La Prensa and demanded that it pay the debt. As of July 30, 2007, it allegedly owed a total of approximately US$1.5 million. Following protests from various organizations and political leaders, the customs authority agreed to release the paper to La Prensa. A document of the Council of Citizen Power for District VI in Managua with no signature or stamp came to light on July 10. Though the council’s coordinator, José Tellería, denied it, some council members acknowledged the existence of the document, which states that the mouthpieces for the right are “la prensa, el nuevo diario and channel 2” (sic). The document calls for protests against the Spanish electrical company Unión Fenosa and says that “we must burn tires, we must burn la prensa, mortars for traffic, but we must protest.” Tellería said that while La Prensa is a right-wing publication critical of the FSLN, there was never an intention to burn down the newspaper’s facilities. But Mario Bolaños, who is also mentioned in the document, acknowledged the existence of the document but said that the part about burning La Prensa was included just in a moment of “euphoria.”