«Nicaragua has a regulatory framework that addresses the field of journalism and the work of the media. However, the laws are obsolete and do not provide benefits or protection.»
Cecilia Castro* / Nicaragua, September 2014
Nicaragua has a regulatory framework that addresses the field of journalism and the work of the media. However, the laws are obsolete and do not provide benefits or protection.
The General Telecommunications and Postal Services Law (Law No. 200) regulates and ensures compliance in this area and identifies the Nicaraguan Telecommunications and Postal Institute (TELCOR) as its regulatory entity. This is also its greatest weakness, as the organization responds directly to the interests of the President of the Republic and thus lacks autonomy and independence. All of this favors the concentration of ownership of the media.
Law 200 also prohibits foreign business owners from holding media licenses. Article 29 states that “Licenses are only granted to Nicaraguan individuals or legal entities. In the case of corporations, the capital must be constituted by at least 51% Nicaraguan nationals.” However, Telcor itself has granted media licenses to foreign companies.
The Nicaraguan government has tried to reform this legal framework over the past seven years, but its “changes” have been a cause for concern among journalists. One of the most emblematic adjustments was Law 670, the Law to Extend Expired Licenses, which stated that media licenses could be extended indefinitely until a new law was passed. Seven years after the legislation was introduced, we are still waiting for that promise to be kept.
The map of media concentration began to be reorganized in 2007. The country’s media duopoly is most visible in the case of TV.
On the one hand, we have Ángel González, a Guatemalan-born Mexican national who owns the Latin American network Albavisión. The company is registered as “Ratensa” for the purposes of working in the TV industry in Nicaragua. Since 1997, it has acquired Channel 10 and taken control of Channels 2, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 17 for UHF and VHF channels 17, 19, 25, 32 and 33.
The President’s family also has a broad advantage in media ownership. It is the real force behind Albanisa, a private corporation created using funds from Venezuela over which President Ortega has complete discretion. This consortium is the owner of at least four TV channels and controls Channel 6, the country’s only state-run channel, which is supposed to present the official editorial line.
Telcor has created a González- Presidential family duopoly in the TV industry because it has facilitated the process through which those two entities have been granted unlimited access to licenses.
Once Telcor granted the first license to Ángel González, it bypassed Article 68 of the Political Constitution, which states that the agency must ensure that “social communication media are not subjected to foreign interests or to the economic monopoly of any group.” But González astutely uses the names of Nicaraguan nationals so that they are legally responsible for carrying out the transactions associated with the purchase of the media outlets. Another point in his favor is his economic and political relationship with President Ortega.
Telcor also benefits the President’s family, which uses the same modus operandi as González. It purchased Channel 8 in 2010 using the name Albanisa. As a result of its relationship with González, the family also acquired all of the shares of Channel 4.
The monopolization of the TV media has caused opinion programs that had offered strong criticism of the government to disappear. There is also the problem of official publicity and Telcor shares. For example, the cancellation of the morning program El 10 en la Nación, which was hosted by politician Jaime Arellano, was due to the direct intervention of Ángel González.
Nicaraguan TV media lack freedom of expression and no longer offer programming that includes criticism or debate. Only the limited number of independent media outlets that are left such as Channel 12 in UHF and Channel 14 in VHF attempt to discuss the issues and place them on the agenda.
Another phenomenon that is occurring in Nicaraguan television is the power that the President’s family has over the only state-run channel, which is used to broadcast President Ortega’s speeches on the rare occasions that he offers them. Channel 6 is also owned by the President’s family- it is “state-run” in name only.
The arbitrary decisions, violations of rules and monopolization that one sees in Nicaraguan television are a result of the alignment of Telcor with Daniel Ortega’s policies and its lack of autonomy. For these and many other reasons, there is a desire to create a Communications Law that can regulate each case and end the duopolies. The longer the approval of a new law takes, the worse it will be for the television media.
Ángel González has also reaped benefits in Nicaragua in the radio industry. By acquiring Channel 2, he automatically became the owner of Radios Coasa, as occurred with the Ratensa radios that were part of the Channel 10 consortium. González thus became the owner of 12 radio stations plus others that we do not know about, which is possible because Telcor bidding processes are conducted in secret. The pace at which he is buying up radio and TV stations is of concern. Meanwhile, the President’s family has recently acquired seven radio stations.
The new Communications Law will also have to address the creation of a community radio system, as this is still a pending issue.
There are small groups that identify themselves as “community radio stations,” such as the World Association of Community Radio (AMARC) conglomerates, which have a group of local radio stations throughout the country that address social issues.
In Nicaragua, the media is owned by a foreign national, and most Nicaraguans are not aware of it. This is proof that Telcor is taking control of the few spaces of freedom of expression that we have left and is allied with a President who breaks the law, allowing the media to be monopolized, all with the complicity of the regulatory entity.
*Cecilia Castro is a Media Analyst with the Media Observatory CINCO.
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