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Nicaragua at war with media, says CPJ report

President Ortega sees private media as enemies and seeks to marginalise them
President Ortega sees private media as enemies and seeks to marginalise them

AP

How do you use the media to maintain an iron grip on your country? If you are Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, you bypass the independent media, defining them as enemies and moving aggressively to obstruct them, says a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Driven by decades-old hostilities toward the media, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his wife often claim that private news media is CIA-funded and controlled by an elite class, which they term the "oligarchy."

So he often sidesteps the media, says CPJ. Government officials maintain contact with only a few pro-government media outlets, many controlled by the President's family or party. Ortega does not grant interviews even to those chosen media outlets,, relying instead on sympathetic journalists to publish his prepared statements and cover his public events, says CPJ.

He has never given an official press conference and his political agenda is virtually unknown, CPJ adds.

Meanwhile, critical journalists face legal harassment and attacks on their characters - Ortega has described them as "children of Goebbels" and enemies of the Nicaraguan people. The official media has employed smear campaigns intended to discredit independent reporters.

Ortega has taken heaviest aim at Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the one-time Sandinista editor turned multifaceted journalist and government critic. Chamorro runs the magazine "Confidencial", and hosts a couple of television news programmes. On his show "Esta Semana" Chamorro exposed a multimillion-dollar extortion scheme involving the Sandinista Party and influence peddling in the judiciary. After the 2007 story aired, Channel 4 and Nueva Radio Ya broadcast unfounded spots linking Chamorro to international drug trafficking.

Journalists and other critics of Ortega's administration have been defendants in at least four criminal defamation lawsuits, says CPJ. The Ortega administration has also manipulated government advertising and access to official sources in ways designed to punish critical media and reward allies.

Not that these tactics are unusual in Latin America, says CPJ, pointing to Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Colombia's Álvaro Uribe, who have pursued similar strategies. "But the degree to which Ortega has sought to insulate himself from public scrutiny is unusual in the region. His policies have threatened institutions that serve as a check on power and have jeopardised foreign aid important to the country's economic well-being," says CPJ.

CPJ's report chronicles Ortega's love-hate relationship with the media, starting in 1979 when he came to power largely through media support, through his defeat at the ballot box in 1990 and a personal scandal that almost cost his career, to his comeback in 2006.

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