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Cablegate: Nicaragua's Independent Radios Facing Political and Economic Pressure

VZCZCXYZ0023
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHMU #0959/01 2742055
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 012055Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4612
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L MANAGUA 000959

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR WHA/CEN, DRL, AND INR/IAA
DEPT FOR USOAS
STATE PASS USAID

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/30/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECPS ECON EAID NU
SUBJECT: NICARAGUA'S INDEPENDENT RADIOS FACING POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC PRESSURE

REF: MANAGUA 626

Classified By: Ambassador Robert J. Callahan for reasons 1.4(b & d)

1. (SBU) Summary: Independent radio, like other independent
media outlets, faces increasing political pressure from the
Ortega government, including vandalism by Sandinista
activists and revocation of broadcast licenses. This growing
political pressure, combined with plummeting advertising
revenue and a worsening economy, is forcing some stations to
close or scale back operations. The Ortega government
continues to use state advertising funds to award or punish
media organizations and prevents independent radio outlets
from access to official government events and briefings. A
draft Law on Telecommunications may give the government
greater authority and discretion to silence its critics on
the radio, threatening the ability of average Nicaraguans to
maintain access to information outside of official
FSLN-backed media outlets. End Summary.

------------------
Political Pressure
------------------

2. (C) Radio remains the most significant source of news and
information for the vast majority of Nicaraguans. According
to Raul Obregon, president of Nicaragua's M&R Consultants, a
leading polling firm, the majority of Nicaraguans get their
news and information first from radio, and radio continues to
enjoy high levels of public confidence. In rural locations,
local independent radio is often the only source of
information other than FSLN/government media outlets such as
Radio Ya and television's Channel 4.

3. (C) Since it assumed power in 2007, the Ortega government
has applied increasing political pressure to the country's
independent media, particularly independent radio and appears
to be increasing this pressure as it faces growing resistance
to its political agenda. Until recently, the most common
tool used by the government has been to deny media access to
government events. For example, on August 27 independent
media were excluded from a Health Ministry press conference
on the H1N1 health emergency, preventing non-FSLN stations
from carrying accurate reports on the status of H1N1 and
safety measures. Similarly, independent media were excluded
from recent meetings between the GoN and high-level USG
officials in early September, including two meetings with
President Ortega.

4. (C) Over the past several months, the Ortega government has become more aggressive in its efforts against independent radio. On June 19, government authorities invaded Radio La Ley, confiscated its equipment, and prevented it from broadcasting (reftel). Since that time, the owner, Santiago Aburto, has followed the established administrative processes with government authorities to resolve his case and resume radio broadcasts. However, Aburto tells us that these government agencies have remained silent, providing no response to his appeals in violation of regulations that stipulate a time period in which the authorities must respond, and his radio station remains off the air. In a similar incident at the end of August, independent radio station Radio Dario in the city of Leon was attacked. Anibal Toruno, the station's marketing manager, told us FSLN activists attacked the radio station's transmitters, knocking the station off the air for several hours. Similarly, opposition-affiliated Radio 15 de Septiembre has been repeatedly vandalized over the past several months and was raided by tax and law enforcement authorities in June in connection with a suit brought by FSLN party members against the owner of the land on which the station operates. Government attacks have not been limited to opposition-associated media, but rather the governing FSLN attacks all media critical of the government or the party, even stations affiliated with their own party. In December 2009, the normally FSLN-aligned local television station "Canal 14" in Juigalpa (department of Chontales, in central Nicaragua) reported an FSLN militant's account of the November 2008 election fraud. As a reprisal the government closed "Canal 14" for a week and filed slander and defamation charges against the station owner and news reporter.

Economic Pressures
------------------

5. (C) In addition to the growing political pressure,
Nicaragua's worsening economic situation has placed many
radio stations in a precarious financial situation and has
even forced some stations to close. In some instances, these
financial problems are the direct result of GoN manipulation.
Since the Ortega government assumed power, independent media
have received a shrinking portion of state advertisement
funds, which were previously a significant source of revenue
for the stations. Most independent media groups have
accepted that they will not receive any financial support
from the government and no longer rely on this support,
forcing them to seek advertising revenue in a shrinking
economy. The Inter-American Press Association has described
the Ortega administration's use of state advertising funds as
a tool by which the government rewards media organizations
that report favorably on government activities or punishes
those critical of the government. Local media contacts
estimate that the government spent an estimated $10 million
in advertising in 2008, nearly all of which was directed
towards FSLN-owned or affiliated outlets.

6. (C) The lack of government advertising has not been the
only source of economic pressure facing independent media.
The loss of private sector advertising has hurt local,
independent media the most. Nicaragua's weak economy
together with the Ortega government's pressure on the private
sector not to advertise or support media critical of his
government has led many private businesses to limit their
support to independent media. As a result of the drop in
advertising, one of the largest independent radio stations,
Radio Corporacion, has been forced to turn to fundraising
campaigns, pleading with listeners to donate $20 a month to
"defend democracy." Radio Dario, operating since 1949, has
registered losses every month since December 2008. Toruno
fears the combined economic and political pressures threaten
to shut down the radio's operations. He noted to us that
several advertisers have been warned not to advertise on his
station or face unwelcome tax investigations and other
inspections by the GoN.

7. (SBU) Smaller, independent radio stations are even more
vulnerable. In Puerto Cabezas, in the country's North
Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), Radio Kabu Yula closed
August 31 due to financial difficulties. A year ago the
station relied on 15 private sponsors; a year later the
station received support from only two sponsors. Also in
Puerto Cabezas, Radio Caribe has been under great economic
and political pressure. According to the radio's director,
Kenny Lisby, the government unexpectedly raised the station's
electricity bill 400 percent in 2009, in what he views as an
effort to eliminate media critical of the government.


NEW LEGISLATION - AMPLE GROUNDS TO CLOSE STATIONS
--------------------------------------------- ----

8. (C) On September 29, the National Assembly's Infrastructure Committee announced the beginning of public consultations on a draft Law on Telecommunications. The bill, which has been in Committee for nearly a year, will establish a new regulatory framework and new authorities for licensing telecommunications, particularly radio. Draft elements of the bill, released to the press, would permit broadcast licenses to be issued for up to 20 years. However, the same bill would also give the regulatory agency, Telcor, wide discretion to terminate licenses for a range of offenses, including failure to broadcast at the proper frequency or strength and for "reasons of security." Telcor would also have the authority to change the frequency on which a station broadcasts, enabling the government to move opposition stations off of existing broadcast frequencies. Opposition members in the National Assembly and civil society have expressed concern to us that, like many other laws and institutions of government, the new Telecommunications Law would give the Ortega government too much discretion to close or reduce the broadcasting capacity of opposition and independent radio stations and leave such stations without legal recourse. Under existing authorities, the government currently prevents several radio stations, including Radio 15 de Septiembre, from broadcasting at full capacity and has permitted FSLN-owned Radio Ya and its local affiliates to broadcast at higher strengths, causing interference with other local independent stations.

9. (C) There is also concern that the draft legislation in
the National Assembly could require new licenses to be
awarded through an auction or tender process. Nicaragua's
Union of Radio Stations (Union de Radiodifusoras, Unir) fears
the intent of the draft law is to eliminate small,
independent media organizations critical of the government.
This fear is greatest among those whose licenses have
recently expired and have been granted extensions only until
the new telecommunications law comes into effect.


Comment
-------

10. (C) Independent media in Nicaragua have been under
attack since Ortega took office in 2007. The first two years
of Ortega's administration saw political pressure as the main
tool the governing FSLN applied to media critical of the
government. Now Ortega is using Nicaragua's economic crisis
to his advantage to apply even more pressure on independent
media. This double-barreled attack has left Nicaragua's
independent media, and particularly local radio stations, in
a vulnerable position. Simply put, independent media, one of
the remaining independent institutions in the country, are an
endangered species in Nicaragua.
CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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