The appeal of the constitutionality of Law 372, which would create a journalists’ colegio (obligatory licensing) is still before the Supreme Court. On December 17, the court asked the appellants to fill in gaps referring to the material damages that the law might cause them. Some lawyers and justices of the court said this requirement had been repealed in an amendment to the Appeals Law. Since the appeal was filed on time and in the correct form by some of the people who challenged the constitutionality of the law and since all the plaintiffs did not appear, the appeal is valid. However, obligatory licensing has not gone into effect because of disagreements between the two journalists’ associations that should comprise the colegio. President Enrique Bolaños began to distance himself from former president Arnoldo Alemán even before he took office January 10, and promised that “no one will be above the law.” He said he would fight corruption without taking into account who might be involved. The first scandal to be uncovered was the loss of $1.8 million that various government agencies had assigned to the government’s Canal 6 de Televisión on Alemán’s orders, supposedly to pay debts of more than $2 million. For that reason, the new government decided to close the government channel on April 9, with the intention of reopening it as an educational channel. On April 23, the police arrested Byron Jerez, former tax director and deputy finance minister in Alemán’s government as he was going to the airport to travel to Panama. The investigation following his arrest implicated top officials of Alemán’s government and the former president himself. Among the charges against Jerez, who is now in prison, is the accusation that he acquired luxury vehicles with government credit memorandums and later sold them for his own profit or gave them to private parties. Lists of people who received 23 cars from Jerez include a Catholic bishop very close to former president Alemán. This fact, and the continuous reports in some media outlets that mention Catholic leaders identified with Alemán’s government, provoked a response from the Nicaraguan Bishops Conference on May 11. It accused the media of “domineering manipulation,” of overwhelming the people with sensational headlines, of publishing false information and failing to give the truth. A report in La Prensa on June 18 alleging that an army general had committed serious crimes, such as money laundering and drug trafficking, caused the officer to ask the national police to investigate. The police ordered La Prensa reporter Luis Felipe Palacios to appear at the Criminal Investigation Division (DIC) where he was pressed to reveal his source. The police said it has the right to handle cases of money laundering and drug trafficking without involvement of a court. Palacios asked the managing editor and a team of colleagues from his newspaper to accompany him. The head of the DIC tried to prevent them from entering. He was annoyed by efforts to take pictures of him and threatened to take away the photographer’s film by force. Angry supporters of the Liberal Party verbally attacked journalists covering the meeting at party headquarters at which the party announced that legislators who support Alemán would boycott the National Assembly and that seven legislators who had voted against the party’s leadership would be expelled. Some reporters were physically cornered for several minutes. The new leadership of the National Assembly decided to review all the bills that had been shelved and found two that clearly threatened press freedom. The first was a Law to Regulate the Crime of Contempt of State Agencies. It provided for a sentence of up to five years in jail. This initiative was not directed specifically at the media, but those that published the expression of contempt for which someone was convicted would have to publish the verdict in its entirety. Liberal Deputy Fernando Avellán, the sponsor of this bill, which sparked broad protest from the media, said the “diabolical initiative was the work of Arnoldo Alemán.” He said that the ex-president had asked him to sponsor the bill, which he did without reading it. He said he would withdraw it immediately. Avellán is one of the deputies who have split from Alemán and voted to oust the leadership of the National Assembly. The second was a Law for Civil Protection of the Right to Private Life and Family, Honor, Reputation and Image. When this bill became know, its author, Liberal Deputy Vladimir Pineda, said he had made a mistake and apologized to the journalists. Most of the supposed crimes mentioned in this bill are already in the Criminal Code. On September 23, the newspaper La Noticia, which was sponsored and maintained with government advertising during the Alemán administration, was closed, after the new government began to distribute advertising according to newspapers’ circulation. La Noticia, which had only 2.5% of newspaper circulation, had no advertising from private businesses. The radio station La Poderosa was closed October 11 on the orders of TELCOR, the government agency charged with assigning and taking away radio frequencies. La Poderosa is practically a mouthpiece for Alemán, and it broadcasts his personal program, “The Deputy Speaks With His People.” It was denounced for attacking President Bolaños, the first lady and members of the government in vulgar terms and even of broadcasting death threats against the president. TELCOR said La Poderosa’s frequency was assigned to COPROSA, an organ of the Catholic Church, which turned it over to the political and business group that was operating it. But COPROSA was in an illegal situation. According to the law, the assignment of the frequency is null and void and therefore the station had to be closed. TELCOR had offered church authorities the opportunity to legalize the situation so they could continue to use the frequency, but so far they have not responded. Cardinal Miguel Obando Bravo has said publicly that the church cannot afford to take advantage of the award of the frequency and run a radio station. The owners of La Poderosa, Arnoldo Alemán and the Liberal Party have denounced the closing of the radio as a political reprisal and attack on freedom of expression. Almost the whole society has deplored the closure of La Poderosa, not because they agree with the radio station, but because they believe no media outlet should be closed by the government. On the afternoon of October 22, Tirso Moreno, alias Commander Rigoberto, a well-known former commander of the Nicaraguan Resistance (Contras), staged an armed attacked on offices of La Prensa. After firing several shots he took 12 reporters and photographers hostage. Moreno, who was drunk, tried to justify his crime by blaming La Prensa for the death in a regrettable accident that afternoon of former president Alemán’s oldest son. Moreno said the newspaper’s reports had created a situation of war in the country. “If they want war, they will have it,” he shouted when he broke into the newspaper office. Police ended the incident without force soon afterward. Moreno turned himself in and later was turned over to the appropriate judge. La Prensa has brought criminal charges against him. President Bolaños said on October 25 that he would not intercede on Moreno’s behalf as some members of the Contra resistance had requested, because, the president said, “no one is above the law.” A Managua appeals court ruled on October 25 that COPROSA could continue as the licensee of 560, but kept the radio station closed pending a Supreme Court ruling on the appeal. For that reason TELCOR cannot bid for the frequency. Cardinal Obando said the archdiocese has not yet made a decision about the frequency. Eliseo Núñez, a spokesman for the Liberal Party (Arnoldista), said they would resume radio programming and challenged TELCOR to try to close the station again.