Freedom of the Press

Nicaragua

Freedom of the Press 2016
Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Political Environment: 
23 / 40 (↓2)
(0=BEST, 40=WORST)
Economic Environment: 
17 / 30
(0=BEST, 30=WORST)
Press Freedom Score: 
54 / 100 (↓2)
(0=BEST, 100=WORST)

Quick Facts

Population: 
6,262,000
Freedom in the World Status: 
Partly Free
Internet Penetration Rate: 
19.7%

Overview

Nicaragua has some protections for media freedom. However, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has maintained restrictive media policies since the party took power in 2007, including preferential treatment for the progovernment press and denial of official advertising worth millions of dollars to independent and opposition outlets.

 

Key Developments

  • Media organizations reported increased levels of threats, harassment, and physical violence against their employees and installations in 2015, carried out by both government and nonstate actors.
  • In May, the media regulator shut down the Voz de Mujer radio station and confiscated its equipment after the station allegedly broadcast on a frequency not designated for radio transmissions, underscoring the lack of a regulatory framework for community radio.
  • The administration of President Daniel Ortega set its sights on limiting internet freedom, although a proposed law that would have granted the government broad powers to control online content was defeated.

 

Legal Environment: 14 / 30

While the constitution provides for freedom of the press, in practice the government places constraints on the media’s ability to inform the public. Defamation and libel remain criminalized, with violations punishable by substantial fines. The number of legal cases against the press has decreased, but the drop has largely been due to a reduction in critical reporting, as journalists who fear economic and physical reprisals choose to self-censor. Judges are often aligned with political parties. Although there were no reported cases of judicial intimidation in 2015, the pattern of judicial partisanship showed no signs of change. In June, the Association of Nicaraguan Journalists filed a libel complaint against the spokesperson for the Supreme Court of Justice, Roberto Larios, over negative comments Larios allegedly made against the organization. A judge threw out the complaint on the grounds that libel and similar crimes can only be committed against natural persons, not legal entities.

A 2007 law established the right to access public information, and government websites have been modernized. In practice, however, information on government activities remains difficult to obtain, with the exception of that from a few public entities, such as the Central Bank, which abide by the law. The politically powerful first lady, Rosario Murillo, presides over an unofficial council that acts as a clearinghouse for government information and routinely denies journalists’ requests.

The Nicaraguan Institute for Telecommunications and Post (TELCOR) not only serves as the country’s media regulator, but also manages its telecommunications systems and postal service. Critics argue that one body should not be responsible for regulating both the media and the broader telecommunications market, and that vague guidelines give the institute overly broad discretion in the media licensing process. In May 2015, TELCOR shut down the Voz de Mujer radio station and confiscated its equipment after the station allegedly broadcast on a frequency not designated for radio transmissions. Press advocates called the response excessive for what was essentially a technical issue and said TELCOR had not followed the proper procedures. The incident underscored the lack of a regulatory framework for community radio in Nicaragua.

 

Political Environment: 23 / 40 (↓2)

The Ortega administration exploits a law intended to facilitate the delivery of emergency messages in order to interrupt regular programming and broadcast official statements. In addition, the administration maintains a strong culture of secrecy and reluctance to engage with the press; this pattern is largely attributed to the first lady, who is the government’s official spokesperson. As of April 2015, Ortega had not given a formal press conference in more than eight years. Journalists who are loyal to the FSLN receive favorable treatment, including exclusive access to government events and press briefings, at which officials typically take no questions. Secrecy is especially potent in connection with the Nicaraguan canal project, in which the government is partnering with a Chinese company to construct an interoceanic canal through the country. Instances of retaliatory firings of media personnel are not uncommon, though none were reported in 2015. Diversity of viewpoints on television in particular is limited by what is effectively an ownership duopoly in the sector.

Media organizations in 2015 reported an increase in threats, harassment, and physical violence against their employees and installations, carried out by both government and nonstate actors. In late December 2014, a Belgian journalist reporting from sites along the proposed canal route was detained by police and deported a day later; her equipment and photographs were also confiscated. The same day, three Spanish journalists were harassed by authorities after reporting from the site where the project’s ground-breaking ceremony would be held the next day. On the day of the ceremony, another group of foreign correspondents was denied entry to the site by police.

In July, multiple journalists were assaulted and detained while reporting on a demonstration in the capital, Managua. Moisés Julián Castillo of Radio Corporación was beaten by police before being taken to a nearby police station along with his colleague Larry Sevilla. A photojournalist working for the newspaper La Prensa, Jorge Torres, and a photojournalist for the Associated Press, Esteban Félix, were assaulted by police and reported damage to their equipment. A reporter for VosTv, Luis Mora Duarte, was also reportedly attacked at the same protest. In November, reporters from several broadcast and print outlets, including Canal 8, Canal 12, and La Prensa, were assaulted and had their equipment damaged or stolen by protesters in Managua.

 

Economic Environment: 17 / 30

Nicaragua has more than 100 radio stations, which serve as the population’s main source of news. Print media offer diverse political opinions, with several daily papers presenting both progovernment and opposition perspectives. Television is dominated by two ownership groups that control eight of the nine free-to-air stations and are generally considered to be aligned with the FSLN. Mexican media mogul Ángel González controls four channels, which favor entertainment and light news over public debate or investigative journalism. The president’s family owns three channels and controls the public Channel 6.

The ruling party also owns four radio stations, while the president of the FSLN controls news websites such as El 19 Digital and Nicaragua Triunfa. Although there is officially a moratorium on the issuance of new broadcast licenses during the ongoing legislative review of the General Law on Telecommunications, TELCOR has allowed companies close to the government to begin offering satellite television services in recent years; a new company was granted a concession in April 2015.

There are no government restrictions on the internet, which was accessed by nearly 20 percent of the population in 2015. Although the penetration rate remains relatively low, the internet has had a significant impact on the media landscape. The number of users of social-networking sites has increased in recent years, and many Nicaraguans are now using the internet as a primary source of news. The Ortega administration attempted to assert total control over online media in 2015 through a proposed bill that would have directed individuals to approved sources of information, but the bill failed due to unanimous opposition from civil society, political parties, and private organizations.

Newspaper owners and press freedom organizations continue to decry enforcement of the so-called Arce Law, which imposes high tariffs on imported printing materials such as ink and paper, stifling independent journalism. The administration also influences media content by steering its substantial official publicity budget toward advertising with the Ortega family’s media holdings or other compliant outlets.