IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11

The control of all branches of government and the government's domination of the media remain the same, as has been repeated year after year since Daniel Ortega regained the presidency in January 2007.

Access to public information is completely lacking, despite the existence of a law intended to provide such access. Government agencies do not allow independent journalists to attend press conferences and official events, and public officials are dismissed from their positions if they provide statements to independent media outlets. Ortega has not given a single press conference or interview.

A duopoly continues to control the television market, with the president's family controlling Channels 4, 8, 13 and 22, as well as the state-controlled Channel 6, while Mexican businessman Ángel González controls Channels 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 17, 19, 25, 32 and 38.

Community radio stations are not safe from danger. TELCOR, the regulatory agency for telecommunications, has shut down five community radio stations and two regional cable networks. On February 24, 2016, without any explanation or court order, TELCOR officials shut down Radio Emperador de Rivas and confiscated its equipment. This action was apparently in response to the station's "Al Día" news program, which has given voice to the peasant movement in opposition to the interoceanic canal.

The executive branch has continued its initial strategy of only releasing information through state-controlled media outlets, where First Lady Rosario Murillo reads a daily report on the government's activities "so as not to contaminate government-related news."

TELCOR has required television stations to interrupt their regular programming whenever requested by the National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Response, but this measure has only been taken when Ortega speaks at party events, when all cable channels are deactivated as well.

Government advertising is handled in a discretionary manner and granted only to media outlets that are friendly to the government or neutralized. Journalists with their own news shows on radio stations outside the capital are the ones hardest hit by a lack of government advertising.

Another threat to journalists comes in the form of attacks by pro-government mobs. On November 11, during a "Protest Wednesday" organized by some opposition parties outside the Electoral Supreme Council to demand free elections as well as domestic and international electoral observers, a number of protesters and journalists were beaten by violent groups that were supposedly also there to protest, although their faces were covered with masks.

La Prensa journalists Emiliano Chamorro and Xochilt Gutiérrez; Channel 14 cameraman Luis Mora; ACAN EFE journalist René Lucía; and Lenín Franco, a journalist for "Sucesos" on the pro-government Channel 8 were also beaten, and one of them had his camera taken away. Journalists from other media outlets, such as Channel 23 and Radio Corporación, also came under attack.

On October 22, Francisco Torres and Armando López, both of them photographers for "Notimatv," a local news show in the city of Matagalpa, were assaulted by presumed employees of the Ministry of Health for seeking the ministry's response to an allegation of medical negligence.

The government has continued its policy of deporting people who visit the country to give talks on human rights, press freedom, and other topics not to the regime's liking. Such people have been held at the airport and sent back on the next available flight.

On March 7, two journalists from El Salvador—Diana Calderón of Grupo Megavisión and Isaac Mejía of TVO Channel 23—were stopped at two different border crossings while on their way to cover a friendly soccer match between the two countries' national teams. The efforts of the Nicaraguan soccer federation (FENIFUT) and the Salvadoran foreign ministry to intervene on their behalf were unsuccessful.

Against a backdrop of government censorship, social media are taking on an increasingly prominent role and are used to promote mobilizations and protests. Many young people responded to a message that said, "So easy to criticize from your computer and not do anything," in support of a retirees' demand of the social security agency, and the government was forced to yield to this demand.

Social media also played a significant role in the peasant mobilization against the proposed interoceanic canal. All of the government's efforts to stop this mobilization were in vain.

The government, meanwhile, has formed brigades of young people to monitor, counteract and respond to criticism and other statements that have forced Ortega's media outlets to address issues that would have otherwise been ignored.