Uncertainty and hard times are looming for press freedom with the new administration of President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. A document drafted by the first lady about the government’s press policy says: “We will use our media outlets so that our information gets out uncontaminated, directly, as we did during the campaign.” President Ortega promised at a meeting with the Association of Independent Media Outlets in November, 2006 “unrestricted respect for freedom of information.” He apologized for the “the censorship that was required by a situation of conflict and that led to excesses and extremes that we must acknowledge” in the ’80s during his earlier administration. He added that in the past government advertising was distributed in a biased way for political reasons and that should be avoided. Finally, he promised to move forward on a list of the tax exemptions granted to media outlets by the Constitution, which were threatened by an article of the tax law that would regulate the exemptions. On February 1, 2007 La Prensa published a letter dated January 29 from the Finance Ministry ordering that all government advertising be frozen. It left the coordination and authorization of this activity to Rosario Murillo, who is in charge of the presidency’s Communication and Citizenship Council. The advertising assigned this year is worth $90 million cordobas, about $5 million, although Murillo said she will not handle that budget. She added that there will be a policy of austerity and savings since the government is in the process of determining its communication policy. President Ortega said “two important media outlets consume approximately 80% of government advertising.” However, El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa published a study done by the Costa Rican company Media Guru in 2006 saying that La Prensa obtained 13.3% of government advertising, El Nuevo Diario 10.9%, and Canal 2 of television 19.2%. César Espinoza, president of the Nicaraguan Organization of Advertising Agencies (ONAP) said freezing advertising would hurt small media companies. Several politicians said freezing the advertising would lead to using it as an award or punishment for media outlets and journalists, which would violate Declaration of Chapultepec, which Ortega signed in July of 2001 when he was a candidate. Government advertising in the daily La Prensa dropped 31.8% in February in comparison with the same month in 2006. The volume of the advertising market in newspapers also dropped 14.7%. The APN said many small radio news shows are about to close because of the lack of advertising. On February 20, the president said at the annual meeting of police commanders that media companies should pay taxes to improve the salaries of police officers. Ortega did not explain that media outlets pay all their taxes and are exempt under the constitution from taxes on the import of paper, equipment and raw materials needed for production. However, this right was withdrawn in an adjustment of the Constitution in the tax law which says that media companies will pay these taxes after importing more than 2.5% of their annual sales in the previous tax period. The president said media companies had received $22 million in exemptions, but experts refuted him, among them the former deputy minister of finance René Vallecillo, an expert in tax matters. He clarified that all media companies receive between 40 million and 50 million cordobas, which is equivalent to between $2.2 million and $2.7 million. Part of these exempted taxes is the sales tax which is partially recuperated when the companies buy supplies for producing the papers. The media companies filed a lawsuit saying this article of the tax code is unconstitutional, since an ordinary law should not be able to change a constitutional exemption. On February 22, La Prensa published a secret 30-page document prepared by Ortega’s wife and published it in its entirety on its Web page. It said, “We will use our media outlets so that our information gets out uncontaminated, directly, as we did during the campaign.” Speaking of the government’s agenda, the document says: “We will limit the area of the discussion and we will make sure that the others discuss this agenda, that is, our strategy must be proactive, not reactive.” It also speaks of reinforcing the idea “The People Are the President.” The president’s propaganda uses this slogan which is heard constantly on Nueva Radio Ya, owned by the FSLN, and other similar radio stations. The document says a weekly program will be broadcast on radio and television “in which our national and local leaders will meet with people in a village, neighborhood or town…etc.” The document predicts direct democracy will bring citizens a good life. On March 1, Nicaraguan Journalists’ Day, Murillo announced the government’s new press policy of equal treatment for media companies with support for the weakest ones. The Association of Nicaraguan Journalists said there was nothing to celebrate and organized a protest. On the same day President Ortega signed an agreement granting privileges to the journalists’ association (colegio) but with no commitment to respect free speech. At the same time the president continued to attack the media, and Murillo accused La Prensa of distorting the communication policy. She did not acknowledge the document that was published. President Ortega made several commitments to the association, including promises to establish a pension fund for journalists; to respect and comply with the law establishing licensing of journalists; and fair placement of government advertising favoring small and medium-size companies. He confirmed that two drawings of the national lottery would go to the association as stated in the law setting up the lottery. Law 372, which established the journalists’ association, provides that the seats on the Board of Directors and the Ethics and Honor Committee shall be evenly divided between the UPN and the APN and shall alternate terms. There are two journalists’ organizations, one of them with a Sandinista approach. According to the APN, this article has not been implemented, since the Sandinista UPN took control during a recent national convention. The APN filed an appeal against the new leaders, who signed the agreement with Ortega. Last year before its session ended the National Assembly approved a new Basic Law. In Article 56 it gives the legislators power to require that any domestic or foreign person or entity appear before it without giving a reason, circumstances or specific cases. If someone does not appear, he or she would be punished for contempt, which, under the Penal Code requires a prison sentence of six months to four years. The Freedom of Information Law is still in the Justice Committee, but the committee’s president, José Pallais, said it will be approved. However, several motions have been introduced. One would require that media outlets publish corrections and another would require that they say what use they make of tax exemptions. The National Assembly approved Article 194 in the chapter on privacy in the new Civil Code which sets prison sentences for people who intercept, divulge or publicize any private communications. Pallais said there will be another chapter covering crimes by officials who hide public information, probably in the Freedom of Information law. The assembly also approved a section in the new Penal Code that sets fines for those who abuse scandal and crime news to publicize unauthorized photographs of dead people. The ALN party announced that it will propose a new law to defend free speech, providing that radio and television licenses will be renewed automatically every 10 years. For its part, the Liberal Constitutionalist Party (PLC), which along with the ALN will form a majority in the National Assembly, promised total support for freedom of expression. To make this happen, media companies proposed a meeting with a committee of representatives of every non-government and non-Ortega party—the PLC, ALN and the Sandinista Renovation Party (PRS). Together they hold 51 seats in the 92-member assembly. The meeting will take place March 13. Both the media companies and the legislators agreed on the urgency of amending press laws that defend press freedom, such as the telecommunications law, with respect to the term of broadcast licenses and the state of being controlled at the discretion of the Telecommunications Institute (Telcor). They also agreed to amend the law that established the journalists’ association to eliminate obligatory licensing of journalists, to support approval of the Freedom of Information Law and changes to the Penal Code with respect to public and private information. They also agreed on the necessity of amending the tax law which maintains a list to regulate the constitutional exemptions that media companies have a right to. The owners of radio station Voz del Trópico Húmedo in San Carlos, 300 kilometers southeast of Managua, reported on March 13 that the mayor, Marisol McRea, is asking the coordinator of the Communication and Citizenship Council, Rosario Murillo, to suspend its frequency and take away the station because it has been used to criticize the mayor’s management. The news director of the station said it was founded in 1980 with the name Radio 13 de Octubre, and was owned by the Corporación de Radiodifusoras del Pueblo (Coradep). In 1990 it was taken over by the mayor’s office. After a fire in 1992, it was given to its workers, but the mayor argues that the original beneficiaries were fired.