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Cablegate: Ortega Expands His Nicaraguan Media Empire

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R 271816Z JAN 10
FM AMEMBASSY MANAGUA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0576
INFO WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
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RUEIDN/DNI WASHINGTON DC

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAGUA 000051

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 2020/01/27
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM ECPS NU
SUBJECT: Ortega Expands His Nicaraguan Media Empire

REF: A) 09 MANAGUA 1157 - ALBANISA TO BUY TELENICA B) 08 MANAGUA 1151 - POPULAR PUNDIT TAKEN OFF AIR

CLASSIFIED BY: Robert J. Callahan, Ambassador, State, Embassy Managua; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (SBU) Summary: On January 14, Carlos BriceC1o made public the sale of his television station, Telenica Channel 8. The buyer and amount have not been made public, but it is widely understood that the governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), and particularly the Ortega family, are the new owners of the station. On January 18, Channel 8 journalists and news directors were seen entering the FSLN headquarters, which has also become the office of the presidency under Daniel Ortega. Already Channel 8's news coverage has changed, with less criticism of the national government and less coverage of the political opposition. As a result of the FSLN's acquisition of the station, prominent investigative journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro decided to discontinue his news programs on Channel 8. With the acquisition of Telenica, the FSLN will now own or have an association with three of the five over-the-air television stations with national coverage. End Summary.

The Not-So-Mysterious Sale

2. (C) On January 14, BriceC1o informed local media via an e-mail that after several months of negotiations Telenica was being acquired by new investors, but that due to reasons of confidentiality the names of the new owners contractually could not be divulged. To date, BriceC1o has not made public the new owners nor stated the price for which he sold the station, but has admitted that it was much less than previously reported (approximately $10 million) because "Telenica had accumulated debts with national and international banks, as well as government institutions." Local media report that BriceC1o's Telenica had approximately a $2 million debt with the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute. It is assumed that the governing FSLN used this debt and other measures reported in ref A to pressure BriceC1o into selling Channel 8.

3. (SBU) Just as BriceC1o has not stated who the new owners of the station are, neither have the new owners publicly identified themselves. Nonetheless, it is generally accepted that the FSLN acquired Telenica, and most likely used funds or financing from the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA) in the process. On January 18, local media showed images of Channel 8's news directors, journalists, cameramen and other personnel entering the FSLN secretariat. The governing party's secretariat has become the nexus point where the power of the FSLN, the Ortega family and the government converge. There the Telenica personnel were met by Alberto Mora, the FSLN's Channel 4 morning talk show host, and inside the party's offices the group met with President Ortega's son Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo. Ortega Murillo and Mora informed the station's personnel that Telenica had been acquired and that there would be no layoffs. The official government newswebsite, el19digital.com, stopped short of admitting the FSLN acquired Channel 8, but hinted at this. The newswebsite reported that while the FSLN did not own a majority of the national media, with the purchase of Channel 8 the opposition's monopoly of the of national media was broken.

The New Telenica

4. (SBU) While the new owners of the Telenica have not identified themselves, the station's new leadership has become public knowledge. Juan Carlos Ortega Murillo has been reported as the new director and Mora also has taken a leadership role, but describes himself as a "coordinator." (Note: The president's son is the Nicaraguan representative on the board of directors for the Venezuelan-based television station, Telesur in which several left-leaning states have interests.) Mora has publicly stated that he has been authorized to speak on behalf of the station's new owners, but has not openly stated who are the new owners. In their meeting with the Telenica personnel, the two FSLN militants informed the personnel that there would be some programming changes.

5. (C) It was widely assumed that one of the reasons the FSLN acquired Channel 8 was to have another television station through which the governing party could disseminate its message, without it being as blatant a propaganda station as Channel 4. In the short time since the acquisition, this change has been evident. The station's morning talk show now hosts many more FSLN personalities than before, their afternoon news coverage begins the first thirty minutes with a broadcast of Telesur's international coverage, and Channel 8's news in general has become more sympathetic toward the Ortega administration and has provided less coverage to the political opposition.

6. (C) On January 24, prominent investigative journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro announced on his weekly news program that he would no longer broadcast his programs on Channel 8. (Note: As is often the case in Latin America, Chamorro produces his own programs, sells his own ads, and buys time from Channel 8. End Note) If he continued on Channel 8, he argued, he would be allowing Ortega to appear as supportive of freedom of the press, which the president has demonstrated through various actions that he is not. If Ortega truly wanted to demonstrate his support for a free press, Chamorro stated that the president should stop harassing independent media and provide these outlets with access to state institutions. In his statement Chamorro indicated that while the new owners of Channel 8 were still unknown, three things were clear - the acquisition was financed with Venezuelan funds, the state's telecommunications regulator (TELCOR) represented the new owner in the negotiations rather than acting as an independent agency, and the only people speaking on behalf of the new station were FSLN members. Chamorro announced his decision after Mora had previously stated that the new owners would respect the journalist's contract and Chamorro's programs could continue. In what could be a veiled threat, Mora also indicated that Chamorro should abide by his contract. Chamorro is currently discussing the possibility of moving his news programs to over-the-air station Channel 12. According to a member of Chamorro's staff, the other over-the-air television stations are not an option as they have demonstrated their susceptibility to political pressure or have ties to the FSLN.

7. (C) With the acquisition of Telenica, the FSLN now has control or an association with three of the country's five public television stations with national coverage. The FSLN owns the majority shares of Channel 4 (operated by Daniel Ortega Murillo, son of the president and first lady), has shares in Channel 10 (co-owned with the Mexican media entrepreneur Miguel Angel Gonzales), and now controls Channel 8. The other stations are Channel 2 and Channel 12. Since Ortega entered office in 2007, Channel 2 has succumbed to the political pressure and limited its news programs (ref B). As for Channel 12, the station is associated with Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC) leader and former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman. Polling and other viewership assessments in the past have traditionally placed Channel 8's news coverage in the top of the rankings and Channel 12 in the bottom.

Comment

8. (C) The FSLN's acquisition of Channel 8 is another step in the governing party's seemingly successful attempt to control the national media and the message received by the population. As is their governing style, the FSLN's acquisition of the station was not transparent nor has it responded to the public's inquiries regarding the sale. Channel 8 will provide Ortega and his party the ability to project their message (complete with images) to all parts of the country just ahead of regional elections on the Atlantic coast, the National Assembly's election of national level public officials (including the Supreme Electoral Council), and the country's 2011 national elections. Likewise, the population's ability to receive an independent message on these issues shrinks further.

CALLAHAN

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