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)
The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but in practice the government acts to restrict it. In 2010, the administration of President Daniel Ortega of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) continued to demonize the independent and opposition press, while favoring progovernment outlets. In an interview in late August with the Russian television channel RT, Ortega said he was waging a battle against the news media, andthat “the enemy has it, and it is powerful.” However, he said he was pleased that it was “a tool that we also have at our disposal.”
Libel laws are used frequently against journalists and news outlets. Judges are often aligned with political parties, and some have barred journalists from covering certain stories. Cases of judicial intimidation have also been reported. Many journalists belong to pro- or anti-Sandinista professional associations. In March, the National Assembly considered and voted down a bill that would have required journalists to belong to a union affiliated with the ruling party.
A 2007 law established the right to access public information, but it contains exceptions for materials the government deems related to state security. Ortega’s administration is highly secretive, and he has given no press conferences since taking office in 2007, according to local reports. Journalists loyal to the ruling party receive preferential treatment, including exclusive access to press conferences and government events. For example, at the inauguration of former vice president Alfredo Gómez Urcuyo as a member of the National Assembly, officials of the Supreme Electoral Council prevented reporters with independent media outlets from covering the event.
There were few reports of physical attacks against journalists, but media organizations were subject to harassment by both government and private actors. In August 2010, photojournalist Sergio Cruz was attacked by five men while photographing an opposition mural on a public street. Cruz’s equipment and vehicle were destroyed in the attack, which civil society groups considered politically motivated. Members of the National Labor Front, a pro-Ortega organization, protested in front of the offices of the privately owned daily La Prensa, temporarily blocking distribution, after the paper rescinded the contracts of several distributors in August. In October, alleged pressure from groups affiliated with the ruling party forced a radio station in Juigalpa to cancel a daily program, “Face to Face with the News.”
The government also uses economic means to exert pressure on the media. It is known to steer official advertising toward state-owned and regime-friendly outlets. In January, according to La Prensa, the government tried to block the importation of paper used for printing newspapers. The government uses the Labor Ministry and the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute to intimidate privately owned companies through constant inspections and audits, according to the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA).
There are 10 Managua-based television stations as well as more than 100 radio stations, which serve as the population’s main source of news. However, nearly 20 news radio stations were closed in Managua during 2010, according to IAPA. Print media are diverse, with several daily papers presenting progovernment and critical perspectives. Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of various factions of the politically influential Chamorro family, while the prominent Sacasa family dominates the television industry. Mexican media mogul Angel Gonzalez, noted for his holdings in Guatemala and Costa Rica, also owns significant outlets in Nicaragua. Several media outlets are owned and controlled by Ortega’s family and the FSLN. The government owns the official Radio Nicaragua. There is little transparency in ownership, and local reports indicate that the government may be secretly buying some news organizations. All allegations have been denied by the government. There are no government restrictions on the internet, which was used by approximately 10 percent of the population in 2010.