Freedom of Expression

Press Release R201/18

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Condemns Attacks, Political Pressure and Indirect Censorship against Journalists and Media Outlets in Nicaragua 

September 8, 2018

Washington D.C. – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns persistent threats against journalists’ safety, as well as surveillance and political pressure against media outlets in Nicaragua. Among other practices, various media outlets denounced the launch of indirect censorship mechanisms by the State against Channel 10’s journalistic team. The Special Rapporteur urgently calls on the State to end such actions and to guarantee the free and independent functioning of the media in the country.

According to information that has been verified by the IACHR’s Special Monitoring Mechanism for Nicaragua (MESENI, by its Spanish acronym), the production team of Acción 10, the newscast with the highest number of viewers in Nicaragua, has been under pressure since the start of the ongoing political crisis in the country. On August 20, Oscar Ortiz, allegedly a spokesperson for Nicaragua’s pro-government Channel 8, arrived at Channel 10’s headquarters with the aim of becoming the head of reporting for the newscast Acción 10. Journalists at that newscast opposed the move and denounced it as yet another attempt by the government to control Channel 10’s editorial line.

After that, Nicaragua’s Financial Auditing Unit (UAF, by its Spanish acronym) launched "financial intelligence proceedings" against Channel 10’s general manager, Carlos Alberto Pastora Rossler, for alleged "money laundering." A warrant was issued to prevent him from leaving the country. According to the available information, on August 22, Carlos Pastora entered the Honduran Embassy in Nicaragua and requested diplomatic protection from Honduras, of which he is also a citizen. He also requested protection from the actions of the Nicaraguan State and from threats against his life and personal integrity, alleging that he had received direct threats and been followed.

Channel 10’s Acción 10 newscast is one of the news programs with the widest reach and the largest audience in the country, and it is produced by a journalistic firm that is independent from the hosting channel. When protests started, in April, Acción 10 had to cancel its broadcast for two days under direct pressure from the government. The newscast went back on the air after the journalistic team made those pressures public and demanded that the channel’s owner allow them to report on the protests without restrictions. According to the available information, the government had also put pressure on the owner, businessman Ángel González, asking to directly buy the TV channel from him. 

As the IACHR documented in its report Gross Human Rights Violations in the Context of the Social Protests in Nicaragua, during the first few days of the protests that led to the current political and social crisis, several journalists and media outlets received orders from the authorities to restrict the broadcast of information on those events. At least 15 journalists who worked for three of the country’s main TV channels resigned from their positions because they rejected the censorship that had been imposed on them. Over that period, Channel 12, Canal de Noticias de Nicaragua (CDNN23), Telenorte and Channel 51 (the latter belonging to the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference) were all suspended for 24 hours. The channel 100% Noticias was unable to go on the air for six days, after refusing to accept pressure from the telecommunications regulator (TELCOR) demanding that it stop broadcasting programs that were considered anti-government. The IACHR also granted precautionary measures to protect the lives and personal integrity of journalists at Radio Darío, a radio station whose facilities were burned by pro-government groups in the early days of the protests.

The IACHR and its Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression have also observed with great concern stigmatization, assaults, tracking and other attacks against journalists and camera operators covering the political crisis that persists in the country and demonstrations by various groups. Assaults on journalists covering protests and harassment of foreign journalists were joined this week by a complaint from the digital news outlet Confidencial, denouncing surveillance and harassment by parapolice vehicles against several of its journalists.

"The government’s repeated attempts to control the media through pressures and regulatory mechanisms that lack independence entail a serious threat against freedom of expression in Nicaragua, which joins many cases of threats, assaults and intimidation against anyone reporting on social protests," said Special Rapporteur Edison Lanza. "Today, more than ever, Nicaragua’s democratic system needs an independent and critical press, so it is essential to protect the media from political interference and pressures based on their reporting," the Special Rapporteur added.

Concerning harassment against journalists, the Office of the Special Rapporteur stresses that journalists "must not be disturbed, detained or transferred or suffer any other restriction to their rights based on the exercise of their profession. The tools they use to do their work must not be confiscated."

The inter-American legal framework consistently condemns all political pressure and State actions that indirectly restrict freedom of expression. Article 13.3 of the American Convention states that "the right of expression may not be restricted by indirect methods or means, such as the abuse of government or private controls [...] or by any other means tending to impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions."

Along similar lines, Principle 5 of the IACHR’s Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states that "prior censorship, direct or indirect interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression, opinion or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law. Restrictions to the free circulation of ideas and opinions, as well as the arbitrary imposition of information and the imposition of obstacles to the free flow of information violate the right to freedom of expression." Principle 13 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression states that "the exercise of power and the use of public funds by the State, the granting of customs duty privileges [...], among others, with the intent to put pressure on and punish or reward and provide privileges to social communicators and communications media because of the opinions they express threaten freedom of expression, and must be explicitly prohibited by law. The means of communication have the right to carry out their role in an independent manner. Direct or indirect pressures exerted upon journalists or other social communicators to stifle the dissemination of information are incompatible with freedom of expression."

In that sense, the Inter-American Court has said that "the use of a legitimate power of the State to align a given media outlet’s editorial line with the government" is a form of indirect restriction incompatible with the American Convention that "could have a deterrent, terrifying and inhibiting effect on anyone who exercises the right to freedom of expression, which in turn prevents public debate on issues that are of interest to society." The Special Rapporteur urgently calls on the Nicaraguan State to end all sorts of pressures against Channel 10, its managers and journalists and to take any measures necessary to ensure they can do their work in a free and independent manner.