Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 14 (of 30)
Political Environment: 16 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 12 (of 30)
Total Score: 42 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)
The Nicaraguan constitution provides for freedom of the press but also allows for some forms of restriction, including criminal defamation legislation. Although physical attacks on journalists have been reduced, the possibility of harassment and death threats remains high. Legal actions to improve the situation for the media remain stagnant. The administration of President Enrique Bolanos, ruling Nicaragua since 2002, tolerated criticism and diverse views expressed by the media. In November 2006, Daniel Ortega, leader of the left-wing Sandinista party, won the presidential election. Ortega has promised to fight corruption and to resolve the country's widespread poverty issue, but his desire to follow in his predecessor's footsteps and respect freedom of the press is currently unclear.
Judges are often aligned with political parties, and some have restricted reporters from covering certain stories; cases of judicial intimidation have also been reported. New initiatives to promote access to information were discussed during the year, but no laws were actually passed owing to a lack of political will. A court appeal on constitutional grounds against Law 372, which requires all journalists to register with the Colegio de Periodistas, was still pending in the Supreme Court at year's end. However, a number of recent court cases have recognized the importance of freedom of the press. In November 2006, the 2005 conviction of Eugenio Hernandez for killing La Prensa journalist Maria Jose Bravo Sanchez was upheld. In addition, in June a criminal court judge upheld the acquittal of journalists Heberto Rodriguez, Oliver Bodan, and Darling Moises Lopez, who had been sued for libel.
Physical attacks on journalists have diminished, but a number of reporters received death threats or were harassed at gunpoint throughout the year. Although two of the recent killings were linked directly to the polarized political scene, threats against journalists from narcotics traffickers and corrupt police hindered press freedom in some of the more isolated regions of the country. Politicians have also often criticized the media for trying to undermine their credibility and limit public debate. On February 23, approximately 250 supporters of Alvaro Chamorro Mora, the mayor of Granada, traveled to Managua, where they blocked the entrance to the privately owned daily La Prensa. They demanded a meeting with the editors and insisted that the paper refrain from publishing news on alleged irregularities in city hall. That same month, while attempting to cover a meeting of the Granada City Council, La Prensa correspondent Arlen Cerda and photographer Guillermo Flores were surrounded, verbally insulted, and assaulted. At another political meeting in November, Canal 2 reporter Martha Irene Sanchez was beaten and forcibly removed when she attempted to move closer to speaker Daniel Ortega. President Bolanos also publicly asked the private daily El Nuevo Diario to fire reporter Oliver Bodan, who had investigated a corruption scandal at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
There are 10 Managua-based television stations, some of which carry obviously partisan content, as well as more than 100 radio stations, which serve as the main source of news for most citizens. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in the hemisphere, and its media rely on government advertising. There are still complaints about the political manipulation of government propaganda. Newspaper ownership is concentrated in the hands of various factions of the Chamorro family. The prominent Sacasa family similarly dominates the television industry. Angel Gonzalez, noted for his holdings in Guatemala and Costa Rica, also owns significant electronic media interests. The poor economic climate leaves journalists vulnerable to bribery. A new generation of journalists in Nicaragua is rejecting the old ways of self-censorship and bribery, but this process has been slow. There are no government restrictions on the internet, which is used by less than 3 percent of the population.
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