Back in the 1980s, the FSLN imposed a draconian censorship regime over the media. The government controlled the only two television stations in the country, and everything published in daily newspapers had to be approved by a censor. Yet even under those circumstances, the independent press managed to get the news about Nicaragua out, sometimes via the international press. Take for example the 1986 AP story titled “Free Press, Sandinista Style: Censorship is a Way of Life In Nicaragua”. In the article, reporter Carl Manning describes how La Prensa got around censorship, using a bulletin board. According to Manning:
Censored articles [were] tacked outside the office on an old bulletin board for passers-by to see. In the middle of the board is a faded card that reads: “The freedom of the press is the right of the people, not a gift from their government”.
Citizens also got around the news blockade. Depending on where you lived, all you had to do was point your antenna in the right direction, and you would be able to pick up the television and radio signals from Costa Rica or Honduras. I know this because my family did this. It’s how we ended up watching Teletica Canal 7, rather than SSTV, the Sandinista Television System.
It is now 2018, and the OrMu regime is attempting a new media blockade by shutting down independent media and threatening journalists. However, imposing and maintaining a media blackout is no longer that simple. For one, mobile internet access is available in 85% of the country, at either 3G or 4G speeds, and 92% percent of the municipalities in Nicaragua have access to broadband internet, though the coverage is unavailable in the central atlantic region and in the area bordering the Coco River, according to the latest data from CANITEL.
The regime has yet to impose internet censorship, but they have utilized other tactics to silence the independent press. In August, La Prensa tallied the economic loses in terms of equipment and facilities suffered by independent media and journalists covering the protests. At the time, the newspaper estimated over 500 thousand dollars lost due to theft and/or destruction.
OrMu has also retained paper and other vital materials in customs. Daily newspapers like La Prensa estimate that they have enough to run the print edition for another month and a half. Another newspaper, Q’hubo, suspended its print edition altogether. It will now only publish online.
100%Noticias and Confidencial continue reporting online as well, even after their newsrooms were occupied and shut down. In addition, dozens of independent journalists are using social media to continue covering the news. Reporters like Wilfredo Miranda, Lety Gaitan, Nestor Arce, Carlos Maldonado are using their platforms to bear witness. For example, this is how they covered the raid on 100%Noticias and the kidnapping of Lucia Pineda Ubau, who has been missing for over 24 hours, as of this post.
Miranda wrote: “Lucia Pineda is still kidnapped. Let’s spread [the news] around the world that the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has made her disappear. Lets denounce and talk about 100%Noticias. #theywillbejudged.
La @LuciaPinedaU sigue secuestrada. Difundamos en toda la “bolita del mundo” que la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo la tiene desaparecida. A denunciar y hablar de @100noticiasni ! #LosJuzgadosSeranEllos
— Wilfredo Miranda (@PiruloAr) December 23, 2018
Letty Gaitan, a journalist for 100%Noticias, went on Facebook Live and broadcast for 18 minutes to report on the raid of her work place. The video has been viewed over 200 thousand times, and shared by over 13 thousand people.
Nestor Arce tweeted these images from outside of 100%Noticias. He wrote: This is how the police has [surrounded] the main access to 100%Noticias, after raiding it last night and detaining Miguel Mora, the station’s director, and Lucia Pineda U, managing editor. Commissioner Valle Valle is directing the actions in the area.
Así tiene la Policía la entrada principal de 100% Noticia, luego que anoche fuera asaltada y detuvieran a Miguel Mora, director del Canal y a @LuciaPinedaU, jefa de prensa. Comisionado Valle Valle dirige el dispositivo en el sector. pic.twitter.com/SifGJpe2V7
— Néstor Arce (@NestorArce) December 22, 2018
Carlos Maldonado wrote the following: “Almost 24 hours since her kidnapping, we still don’t know where the dictator is holding our colleague, @LuciaPinedaU. Lucia’s voice bothered the dictatorship so much, they had her kidnapped.
Casi 24 horas después de su secuestro desconocemos dónde tiene la dictadura a la colega @LuciaPinedaU. La voz de Lucía incomodó tanto a la dictadura, que la secuestró.
— Carlos S. Maldonado (@CSMaldonado) December 23, 2018
In addition to professional, independent journalists, thousands of citizens have written posts, shot video, take pictures, and created all sorts of content. Without it, we would not have a record of the extent of the repression. This fact became even more clear with the publication of the GIEI report, which included an extensive analysis of social media posts, both text and video.
Unfortunately, the closure of independent news media still creates a vacuum for all those Nicaraguans who depended on those outlets for their news. Even with the availability of the internet, radio and television are still the main news sources for most Nicaraguans, which is why closing 100%Noticias is such a serious matter, particularly given the dominance that the regime has over the medium of television.
Independent media is under siege in Nicaragua, but even under those circumstances, the news are still being covered and they will continue to be covered. Censorship, as Univision’s Jorge Ramos noted, is not insurmountable
The censorship of the Ortega-Murillo regime is foiled again. This Sunday, we will talk with Carlos Fernando Chamorro (@cefeche). Everyone will know what they did. He denounces very serious human rights’ violations and attacks on the press. Univision, 10 am.
La censura del régimen Ortega-Murillo es burlada una vez más. Este domingo conversamos en Univision con Carlos Fernando Chamorro @cefeche Todo el mundo se va a enterar lo que le hicieron. Denuncia gravísimas violaciones a los derechos humanos y ataques a la prensa. Univision 10am
— JORGE RAMOS (@jorgeramosnews) December 23, 2018
OrMu can’t shut us all down.