The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government used administrative, judicial, and financial means to limit the exercise of this right. Although the law provides that the right to information may not be subjected to censorship, it also establishes retroactive liability, including criminal penalties for libel and slander.
Freedom of Expression: Some individuals suffered reprisals for expressing opinions in public on matters of special importance to the ruling party. There were a number of incidents throughout the year in which public officials, including at the ministerial, congressional, and local government levels, were reportedly ousted for expressing their opinions through the independent media or on social media.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent media faced official and unofficial restrictions, reprisals, and harassment but were generally allowed to express a variety of views. The government restricted media freedom through harassment, censorship, and use of arbitrary justifications. Private individuals sympathetic to the government also harassed the media for criticizing the government.
In April the radio show Onda Local was taken off the air by radio station La Primerisima, which was owned by FSLN members. The Onda Local director publicly accused the station owners of acting at the behest of the vice president. The radio show was known for investigative journalism on social topics like women’s issues and protests over worker’s rights, mining corporations, and construction of a proposed interoceanic canal. The station owners did not comment on or provide a justification for the decision to cancel the show.
The government continued to use direct and indirect means to pressure and seek to close independent media outlets, allegedly for political reasons. Independent media owners continued to express concern that incidents of vandalism, seizure of broadcast equipment, and fear of criminal defamation charges created a climate of self-censorship, which the government could exploit to limit press freedom. An independent television station was fined an amount the owner believed was disproportionate due to administrative procedures. The station owner repeatedly expressed concern due to pressure from government officials because of the station’s independent stance. Other media harassment came through continued financial audits performed by the Directorate General of Revenue, which resulted in cases being brought to the consideration of the Customs and Administrative Tax Court. Independent news outlets reported they were generally not permitted to attend official government events, were denied interviews by government officials, and received restricted or no direct access to government information. Official media, however, were not similarly restricted.
Since 2008 the General Law (Law 200) on Telecommunications has been in review in the National Assembly. Until the reforms are approved or denied, media outlets are unable to apply for new broadcasting licenses. Nevertheless, the government granted licenses in a discretionary manner and extended the validity of existing licenses indefinitely. Human rights groups and independent media continued to criticize the legal insecurity created by the lack of telecommunications legislation, since Law 200 regulates routine administrative processes, such as the purchase and import of goods related to broadcasting and license adjudication. Furthermore, independent radio owners continued to defer long-term investments due to the lack of updated licenses.
The Communications Research Center of Nicaragua reported that control over television media by the FSLN and President Ortega continued throughout the year. National television continued to be largely controlled either by business associates of the president or directly owned and administered by his family members. Eight of the 10 basic channels available were under direct FSLN influence or owned and controlled by persons with close ties to the government.
Generally, media stations owned by the presidential family limited news programming and served as outlets for progovernment or FSLN propaganda and campaign advertisements. Press and human rights organizations claimed the use of state funds for official media, as well as biased distribution of government advertising dollars, placed independent outlets at an unfair disadvantage. Independent media asserted the moratorium on granting new government broadcasting licenses, combined with the uncertainties of the National Assembly’s protracted telecommunications review, contributed to legal insecurity and shrinking opportunities for private investment. Some independent media owners also alleged the government exerted pressure on private firms to limit their advertising in the independent media, although other observers believed the lack of advertising was the result of self-censorship by private companies or a business decision based on circulation numbers.
Violence and Harassment: One of the largest daily newspapers, opposition-leaning La Prensa, claimed government officials and supporters regularly intimidated its journalists, actively hindered investigations, and failed to respond to questions on a variety of problems, particularly those involving the constitution, rule of law, and corruption. There were several reported cases of threats against the press.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Many journalists practiced self-censorship, fearing economic and physical repercussions for investigative reporting on crime or official corruption. Additionally, media outlet owners exercised self-censorship by choosing not to publish news that affected public perceptions of the government or the FSLN.
The government continued to enforce inequitably the controversial Law 528, or “Ley Arce,” which established high tariffs and bureaucratic delays on the importation of ink, paper, machinery, and other printing necessities, despite constitutional provisions protecting the right to freedom from tariffs for media. Although the law applies to all print media, print media owners and international NGOs claimed the government specifically applied it to La Prensa, which operated one of the few printing operations not controlled by the government. Journalist organizations expressed concern regarding the lack of government support for the media sector and their organizations.
Libel/Slander Laws: Although during the year the government did not use libel laws or cite national security to suppress publications, independent media reported engaging in self-censorship due to the government’s previous use of libel laws. Slander and libel are both punishable under the law with fines ranging from 120 to 300 times the minimum daily wage.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content; despite this, several NGOs claimed the government monitored their email and online activity without appropriate legal authority. Additionally, paid government supporters used social media and website commentary spaces to harass prominent members of civil society, human rights defenders, and a well-known journalist.
The International Telecommunication Union reported approximately 25 percent of citizens used the internet in 2016.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were some government restrictions on academic freedom, and many academics and researchers reported pressure to censor themselves. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.
Human rights NGOs and civil society groups reported authorities required students in elementary and secondary public schools to participate in progovernment rallies while schools were in session. Political propaganda for the ruling party was posted inside public schools. Teacher organizations and NGOs alleged continuing FSLN interference in the school system through the use of school facilities as FSLN campaign headquarters, favoritism shown to members of FSLN youth groups or children of FSLN members, politicized issuance of scholarships, and the use of pro-FSLN education materials.