Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Freedom of information legislation was passed during the year, but the harassment and intimidation of journalists continued, and the Daniel Ortega administration criticized the press and favored progovernment media outlets. The Nicaraguan constitution provides for freedom of the press but also allows for some forms of restriction, including criminal defamation legislation. Legal actions to improve the media environment remain stagnant. Judges are often aligned with political parties, and some have restricted reporters from covering certain stories; cases of judicial intimidation have also been reported. In May, a new Access to Public Information Law was approved, and an office was created in December to serve as the clearinghouse for all freedom of information requests. Nevertheless, civil society groups and media members indicated that the Access to Public Information Law includes sections that may undermine the measure’s ultimate effectiveness. A court appeal on constitutional grounds against Law 372, which requires all journalists to register with the Colegio de Periodistas, or national journalists’ association, was still pending in the Supreme Court at year’s end.
Daniel Ortega, who took office as president in January, has so far failed to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps to respect press freedom. Ortega frequently discredits the work of the media in his speeches and appointed his wife, Rosario Murillo, as the administration’s point person for press relations. Politicians have also criticized the media for trying to undermine their credibility and limit public debate. Journalists, on the other hand, complained that the government provided media loyal to the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party with preferential treatment, intimidated media outlets, and pressured journalists into self-censorship.
While physical attacks on journalists have diminished, a number of reporters received death threats or were harassed at gunpoint throughout the year. In February, three members of the ruling party threatened to kill journalist William Aragon reputedly in response to two articles in the Managua-based daily La Prensa in which Aragon exposed government corruption. Later in December, La Prensa correspondent Jorge Loaisiga was detained briefly by presidential security guards at a public ceremony attended by the president and several ambassadors. Loaisiga was soliciting comments from the American ambassador when he was roughly handcuffed and detained; authorities released him soon after, however, in response to protests by other journalists and local residents.
There are 10 Managua-based television stations, some of which broadcast partisan content, as well as more than 100 radio stations, which serve as the population’s main source of news. Print media are diverse, with both progovernment and critical perspectives and several daily papers. Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of various factions of the Chamorro family, while the prominent Sacasa family dominates the television industry. Mexican media tycoon Angel Gonzalez, noted for his holdings in Guatemala and Costa Rica, also owns significant electronic media interests. In September, customs authorities impounded printing materials imported by La Prensa for two weeks in an attempt to make the company pay import duties, despite a constitutional provision that provides tax exemption. Two radio programs were also shut down in August by the FSLN mayor and local government of San Carlos in Rio San Juan based on their criticism of municipal authorities. Nicaragua’s media rely heavily on government advertising owing to economic necessity. According to the International Press Institute, President Ortega signed an agreement on March 1 with the Colegio de Periodistas to ensure “the just distribution of government advertising contracts to benefit small and medium-sized radio stations,” as well as to waive broadcast licensing fees for smaller media outlets. However, a freeze remains on government advertising, which generally appears only in media outlets that belong to the ruling party or that have close ties to the government, or on highway billboards. The poor economic climate leaves journalists vulnerable to bribes; however, a new generation of journalists is trying to reject the traditional practices of self-censorship and bribery. There are no government restrictions on the internet, which was used by less than 3 percent of the population in 2007.