Report to the Midyear Meeting

Panama, Panama

March 6 – 9, 2015

The state of press freedom has deteriorated with the consolidation of the authoritarian government which is increasingly controlling the branches of government, municipalities, the police and the army.

The government controls public opinion through the "stockpiling" of news media, as was said by the Bishop of Estelí, Monsignor Abelardo Mata. This signifies that it is taking over or neutralizing all the news media that it can. The duopoly denounced in previous reports had a new chapter. The Ortega-Murillo presidential family controls Canal 2 television which had already passed before into the hands of Ángel González, who now kept Canal 7 which previously was a relay station of Canal 2. González does not allow the government to be criticized on his channels. He had channels 9, 10, 11 and 7 and owns the company RATENSA, with at least three FM radio stations.

The presidential family controls channels 2, 4, 6 (state-owned channel), 8, 13 and 47 and cable subscription channel 91. Only channel 12 remains independent.

The government continues to use secrecy. No minister or official is authorized to give information of any kind to media that are not allied to the government. The law on access to information is not being complied with. All ministers and autonomous agencies are prohibited from placing advertisements with media that are not allied with the government. Since he took office eight years ago President Daniel Ortega has not given even one press conference.

In mid-November a Web site named "Nicaleaks," headed by a renowned former member of the now extinct State Security and which in turn was reproduced by Facebook accounts with false profiles, linked Elizabeth Romero, a reporter with La Prensa, to tendentious, defamatory and libelous publications, calling her "unofficial spokesperson" of the country's so-called re-armed groups.

Belgian photographer Michele Sennesael was arrested on December 21 as she was taking photographs of protests by peasants over the construction of the inter-oceanic canal in El Tule, Río San Juan province. She was deported the following day. She had in 2011 begun in Matagalpa her own photographic project called Heroes.

"No one ever explained anything to me," she said concerning her detention and deportation from the country. She complained that all her work equipment valued at 10,000 euros had been stolen.

In late January in Chinandega, the western Nicaraguan province, Telcor, the agency that regulates communications, ordered the shutdown and confiscation of the equipment of Canal 29 television on the UHF bandwidth and rebroadcast on Canal 49 on the signal of the Claro cable company, both channels owned by Jordanian-Nicaraguan Haitham Naim Abu Shehab. Also reported was the going off the air of Canal 50 TV, of the same owner, who called this action a political decision.

Abu Shehab, who is director and host of the program "En Broma y En Serio" (Jokingly and Seriously) on which he criticizes government actions, says that his businesses have been attacked and that he had taken from him a gas station in the Pasocaballos district.

He assured that he is a Sandinista revolutionary and is concerned about the kind of violent attitude for closing down the Canal 29 channel on the argument that he has a 40,000 córdobas debt which he must pay in order to renew the license; however, he said that he had arranged for payment. The shut-down goes against the Telecommunications Law 200 which establishes that any cancellation of license must go through a process that involves three serious offenses, and it also violates Nicaragua's Political Constitution.

A month after Shehab submitted a motion to reopen the case concerning the shutdown of his television channels he received a response saying "there are no grounds" signed by the one who had ordered the shutdown.

On February 5 several cameramen and reporters were expelled from the offices of the Health Ministry in Ciudad de Ocotal in northern Nicaragua after they sought to interview Health Minister Sonia Castro about the construction of a hospital.

Edwin Castro, leader of the FSLN part in the National Assembly "prohibited" La Prensa from publishing a report about him under penalty of facing legal action and he threatened to file a "legal protest," something that does not exist under the law. The article, which was not published due to the politician's reaction, had been scheduled for March 4. It does not libel him nor defame aspects of his personal life.