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Cablegate: Independent Media Continue to Suffer, While Official Media

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O 221402Z DEC 09
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MANAGUA 001155

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DEPT PASS USAID
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AMEMBASSY OTTAWA PASS TO AMCONSUL QUEBEC
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA PASS TO AMCONSUL RECIFE

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/22
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM ECPS ECON EAID NU
SUBJECT: Independent Media Continue to Suffer, While Official Media
Grow

REF: A) MANAGUA 1111; B) MANAGUA 1103; C) MANAGUA 959

CLASSIFIED BY: RobertJCallahan, Ambassador, State, Embassy Managua; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) Summary: As the independent media (and particularly
independent radio) continue to suffer as a result of government and
economic pressures, media owned or affiliated with the governing
Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) continue to grow. This
has led independent media to limit their broadcasts or practice
self-censorship, and has provided the FSLN the ability to expand
its coverage in its attempt to become the only source of
information. End Summary.

Political / Economic Attacks on Independent Media Continue

2. (C) Nicaragua's independent media, and particularly independent
radio, continue to suffer as a result of the country's economic
woes and a private sector scared of supporting independent media
for fear of government reprisals (ref C). As one opposition
legislator described it, the private sector is afraid to advertise
"for fear that the government, through its fiscal terrorism, will
punish it." Financial difficulties affected the smaller radio
stations most immediately (ref C), but larger radio stations have
also begun to feel the impact. Beginning in November, independent
Radio Corporacion and other stations were forced to decrease the
hours of their daily programming.

3. (C) The problem is compounded by the political pressures
received from the governing FSLN. Several radio stations continue
to report interference with their transmitters or unexplained and
prolonged power outages. The governing party also continues its
tactics of using the courts to exert pressure. One example is the
case of Radio Dario in Leon. This independent radio reported in
September that a local university professor was receiving three
salaries for doing only one job. Unfortunately, the subject of
this investigative report was the sister of Leon's mayor, an FSLN
militant who took office through fraudulent elections. The
professor filed charges against Radio Dario, and despite the radio
having the documentation to support its report, the local court
accepted the charges. It undoubtedly helped that the judge in the
case was the sister of the president of the National Assembly,
another FSLN militant. The case is currently with the court.

4. (SBU) There has also been more direct pressure on the independent media. On November 10, FSLN supporters shot improvised projectile devices and rocks at Nicaragua's two main dailies (La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario), then physically assaulted two El Nuevo Diario journalists. These attacks came the day after the papers reported on the one year anniversary of the FSLN's municipal electoral fraud. A week later FSLN sympathizers sabotaged La Prensa's printing press (ref A). President Ortega himself has also threatened independent media. On December 3, upon legislative approval of his fiscal reform bill, which was widely criticized by several sectors, Ortega commented that La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario reported unfavorably on the bill because they promoted "terrorist policies" and were at the service of the "interests of the empire [the United States]." Ortega then announced that his government would investigate the newspapers and threatened to impose additional fines and fees on the papers.

5. (C) This combination of economic and political pressures has led many independent media outlets outside of Managua to forgo news reports in favor of yellow journalism. Instead of reporting on what the national government does or doesn't do locally, local media prefer to report on the vehicle accident in their town or sensationalist stories. For the civil society and opposition's November 21 march in Managua (ref B), Radio Corporacion and Radio Dario worked with local, independent radio stations across Nicaragua to provide one source for all reporting. The idea was for radio stations across the country to tie into Radio Corporacion's Managua coverage. Unfortunately, most of the local independent radio stations feared reprisals from the government and chose not to report on the march.

Government-Affiliated Media Booming

6. (C) In contrast to the precarious situation of independent
media, those affiliated with the governing FSLN are growing.
Whereas independent media are having difficulty finding financial
support, official media organizations benefit from multimillion
dollar government advertising. Official media organizations also
benefit from the government's general funds. It is suspected that
with government funds, the FSLN's Channel 4 television station
bought the exclusive rights for public television for Major League
Baseball games, which is reported to have cost $250,000. During
the broadcasts of the games, the only commercials promoted the
governing FSLN's interests - i.e., FSLN affiliated radio stations,
ALBA, and President Ortega and First Lady Rosario Murillo. There
were no advertisements from the private sector.

7. (C) Government connections also have assisted official media in
improving their infrastructure. In October, independent media
reported that Radio Sandino, owned by members of the FSLN and
managed by the presidential family, acquired nearly 7,000 square
meters of land from the City of Managua. Thanks to a city hall run
by an FSLN mayor (installed after the 2008 fraudulent municipal
elections), Radio Sandino acquired the land without the city
council ever voting on the matter. FSLN television will also be
growing. The government recently approved a project for the
installation of a new transmission tower for Channel 4 television
station. The new transmission tower, with a 50 kilowatt
transmitter, will measure approximately 280 feet and is estimated
to cost nearly $1 million.

Comment

8. (C) Economic and political pressures on independent media are
affecting both the quality and quantity of Nicaraguans' information
sources. These pressures have led to the closure of independent
media (ref C). Those that continue to operate have needed to limit
their broadcast hours or practice self-censorship. At the same
time, the governing FSLN's media organizations benefit from state
coffers to enhance their programming and/or expand their
infrastructure, all the while promoting the party's interests.
This combination is leading the country toward an environment where
the FSLN controls the news and the people are uninformed and unable
to hold their government accountable.
CALLAHAN

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