69th General Assembly

Denver, Colorado

October 18 – 22, 2013

Secrecy and a lack of public information continue to be the keynote of the government of Daniel Ortega. Only official media, which call themselves the Citizen Power, can report government matters. No minister or official is allowed to give interviews, answer questions or simply inform. Only official media receive government advertising. Many media, especially small or provincial news outlets, have had to shut down. President Ortega is advancing in concentration of power, absolutely dominating all branches of government and governing autocratically, on the basis of going above the Constitution and laws even in apparently unnecessary aspects, while there is a growing loss of democratic spaces in most news media, especially electronic ones. Lack of respect for the Law on Access to Public Information passed in 2007 is absolute. In the first part of this second stage, following the revolutionary dictatorship of the 1980s President Ortega devoted himself to attacking independent media in all his public appearances. In the second period he discovered it is easier to save the political cost of that rhetoric or to close down some news media outlets, and that it is more effective to buy up all the media possible, or neutralize them, especially radio and television media, and assign himself television channels through TELCOR, which is the body regulating broadcast frequencies. Of the nine open television channels eight are in the hands of a duopoly. The president’s family directly controls Channels 4, 6, 8 and 13 and 16 and 47 were assigned to open television, while cable television CLARO TV was given the name of Channel 91. Some such as Channel 8 were purchased with funds of a Venezuelan corporation, which does not give accounts in Nicaragua, it not being known if it gives accounts to anyone in Venezuela. Mexican businessman Ángel González, who was a partner with Ortega at Channel 4, controls Channels 2, 9, 10 and 11. He received carte blanche to become the Nicaraguan TV tsar, so long as the profile of his cable television channels be pro-government. There only remains Channel 12 and another three cable television channels which broadcast news and opinion programs very carefully, but their financial situation is increasingly precarious. On September 23 a company called Difuso Comunicaciones, an audiovisual producer belonging to Juan Carlos Ortega, the President’s son, asked TELCOR for a concession to operate a television channel on the Channel 22 frequency. The published announcement requesting the concession gives 30 days to be opposed. but in none of the previous concessions has there been any opposition. Difuso Comunicaciones produces all the advertising spots of the government, including those of the electoral campaign of the Frente Sandinista party. A group of journalists from La Prensa was detained by police for a little more than one hour when they sought to take photos and videos from the street of the Difuso headquarters. Another team from the same paper that arrived afterwards with the same objective was stopped by an Army captain, something unusual as members of the military do not guard private properties. When the officer was asked to explain the reason for the action he replied that “they were taking photos in a security zone.” The Difuso offices are in the vicinity of the headquarters of the Frente Sandinista party, the Ortega family home and the presidential office. Abuses of journalists are common and violent, without any process or explanation. A La Prensa photographer and a reporter were violently removed from the courthouse when they sought to cover a formal complaint by a stepdaughter of Daniel Ortega against a European embassy which, on government pressure, cut off funding of the NGO that she headed, leaving her with payment commitments pending. In this period several foreign journalists were expelled from the country without any due process and in a violent manner. Swedish journalist Peter Torbiornsson, who presented a documentary on the La Penca uprising in 1984, was expelled from Managua airport when he sought to return to Nicaragua. The same happened to Matteo Cardella, an AFP photographer, who was taken to the Costa Rican border after being held in jail for several days in solitary confinement. The official explanation was that he “violated a security zone at the presidential residence.” It was not clear what this violation consisted of and AFP also did not want to give details. An El Nuevo Diario journalist was beaten as he was covering a protest by seniors complaining of a reduction in Social Security pensions.