Nicaragua’s access to credible news is shrinking. The Ortega-Murillo regime not only continues to shut down local media and persecute its journalists, it is now also making content available from Russian radio network and broadcaster Sputnik to some 20 Nicaraguan state-owned media outlets.
“This is a practice that by design is aimed at closing the information space, at keeping the population in the dark, because information opacity conveys control and power,” María Isabel Puerta, a political scientist with a PhD in social sciences, in exile in the United States, told Diálogo on October 12. For [Russia], it is essential that its version of events — especially since the invasion of Ukraine — continues to sow distrust in democracy, and in those countries that are guarantors of democracy.”
The dissemination of Russian news in the Nicaraguan media was made possible under a September 5 cooperation agreement between the media coordinator of the Communication and Citizenship Council of Nicaragua, Daniel Edmundo Ortega Murillo, Son of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, and Vasili Pushkov, director of International Cooperation at Sputnik.
“This agreement goes against what the Nicaraguan people demand: freedom to express themselves, freedom to be informed, without speeches manipulated from the power, with plural debates, with the possibility of listening to diverse voices,” Carlos Jornet, president of the Freedom of the Press and Information Committee of the Inter American Press Association, told Voice of America. “It’s an alliance in which both sides consolidate their contempt for professional journalism and their search to consolidate a narrative far from reality.”
The regime not only attacks local media, but also the international press. “At CNN en Español we believe in the vital role that freedom of the press plays in a healthy democracy. On [September 21] the Nicaraguan regime pulled our television signal, denying Nicaraguans news and information from our network, which they have trusted for more than 25 years,” the network said in a statement. “CNN en Español will continue to fulfill its responsibility to the Nicaraguan public by offering our news links on CNNEspanol.com, so they can access information that is not otherwise available.”
Rosario Murillo told state-owned media that the network had violated the Sovereign Security Law, passed in 2015, yet did not provide specific details, AFP reported.
“The media are fundamental pillars in a democratic system. Consequently, for [non-democratic] regimes they are an enemy to defeat and bend, so as to have control over the media and control over information,” Puerta said. “Disinformation is what contributes to a large extent to sustaining the political regime. An authoritarian regime needs to control public opinion. Free press is always an obstacle in that sense.”
According to the latest report on press freedom violations in Nicaragua by Voces del Sur (Voices of the South), a regional network of Latin American civil society organizations that promotes and defends freedom of the press and freedom of expression, 30 media outlets, among them 27 radio stations, three television channels, five local newscasts, one national and at least five talk shows were shut down between January and August 2022.
For its part, the organization Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN) reports that more than 120 journalists are in exile. In Costa Rica alone, 65 professionals from digital, print, radio, and television are in exile.
“The persecution of the press in Nicaragua is only a reflection of the regime’s fear for what is really happening in the country to be exposed,” Víctor Pérez, director of the Nicaraguan digital magazine ÍnterTextual and a member of the PCIN’s executive committee, told Diálogo. “Some of the acts against the press are the product of a generalized desperation that seeks only to silence us, while we inform the population of the reality of what is happening inside and outside the country.”
Amid the situation in Nicaragua, Puerta recommends creating information networks, supporting independent media, and being careful with the information shared, so as not to add to disinformation tools that already exist.
“Under this environment where the regime has an iron grip, in order to prevent the dissemination of content [with disinformation], we must take responsibility for what we disseminate; so that people can have access to information that is truthful, real, verifiable,” Puerta concluded.