After retiring at the end of 2018, journalist Elizabeth Romero decided that she wasn’t finished with her profession yet. At 60, she founded her own media company, called Obrera de la Tecla [“Keyboard Worker”]. She started the platform together with her son, who handles the photography and graphic design. They both saw it as a contribution they could make as citizens, in the face of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s attacks against Nicaragua’s independent press.
“I was no longer a salaried worker, but I continued producing journalism, because it’s my vocation. I couldn’t be left doing nothing, when so many colleagues had to go into exile. Others were robbed, threatened and jailed. So, we decided to offer our own minimal contribution towards filling that informational vacuum,” she explains.
“We’re two people working voluntarily. We don’t make a living from this. We subsist from other jobs, but we’re counting on ‘Keyboard’ to inform citizens,” Romero states.
Despite their physical and economic limitations, they work collaboratively with other small platforms that have arisen since 2018. “What we need, is to inform. Because of that, we engage in collaborative journalism. It doesn’t matter who tells the story first, only that the message reaches more people,” she highlights.
Even though the regime tries to silence journalists, Romero believes there’ll always be someone willing to inform on what’s occurring. “Journalism from the basement already existed here. If it’s necessary, we’ll whisper the news ear to ear in the buses, as has been done in other countries where they censor the media,” she says.
“Journalism is not for sale”
Alvaro Navarro directs the internet news platform Articulo 66. He was among more than twenty journalists called into the Public Prosecutor’s office last week to testify, in the spurious case against Cristiana Chamorro. Currently a presidential candidate, Chamorro formerly directed the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. She is currently incommunicado under house arrest, accused of supposed “money laundering”. Navarro feels this is all a new attempt to “criminalize the profession”. However, he adds, “they’ve tried it before, and they’ll fail once more.”
Navarro calls the situation facing Nicaraguan journalism “critical”. “Our freedom is at risk, in an atmosphere of hostility and attacks.” These attacks are coming principally from the dictatorship’s state and quasi-state apparatus.
“There’s a clear decision to silence us, so we can’t document what’s happening in the country. (…) We’re one of the most solid professional associations, one they’ve been unable to bring to its knees. Our message is clear: no dictatorship can silence us,” Navarro affirms.
Navarro believes that the regime’s discourse seeks to fan “hatred for journalism” among its supporters this electoral year. He warns that the independent journalists “are a threat to them. That’s why they’ll try to put us on trial, persecute us, threaten us and try to force us into exile.”
The founder and director of Articulo 66 maintains that he’ll continue informing the public. “Journalism isn’t for sale and it won’t bow down.” Journalists working in the field, he notes, aren’t doing it merely for a salary, “but out of the conviction that they’re doing the right thing” by informing the population.
“Our Achilles heel has always been that we can’t pay enough. (..) I must admit we’ve had a high degree of turnover. We’ve served as a classroom for young journalists. Later, they receive better opportunities in other, larger, media companies. We feel proud of them, because they’re in the battle for freedom,” Navarro emphasizes.
Independent Communicators of Nicaragua on “permanent alert”
Michelle Polanco belongs to the Executive Commission of the group, Independent Journalists and Communicators of Nicaragua (PCIN). At the beginning of 2021, the organization issued a “permanent alert”, due to the increased attacks against the media, and on journalists all over the country.
“We’ve condemned this escalation of attacks, trials, sieges, equipment theft, raids and harassment against those who continue denouncing the human rights violations in Nicaragua,” she states.
Michelle Polanco works for Nicaragua’s Channel 10 television station. This week, she and other journalists were violently forced back by police, while covering the raid on the home of presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro.
“When we tried to cover the story, the Police arrived to force us back. They were excessively violent, even though the majority of us were women,” Polanco recounts.
PCIN is made up of over 200 journalists, within and outside of Nicaragua. Michelle feels that “some are still not clear that we in the media don’t obey any political, economic or religious power.”
“They can try to silence us, but they won’t succeed. That’s not just a slogan. We see it everyday when we go out on the streets, because we have a commitment to inform our people,” Polanco declares.
“We’re working with great determination”
The second illegal raid on the production studios of internet news programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche occurred on May 20, 2021. It represents another of the regime’s failures, because “they won’t silence us”. So affirms journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro, who directs both television programs, as well as the Confidencial website.
“For the second time, they want to silence us,” Chamorro states. “They already assaulted Confidencial in December 2018. Now, for a second time, they want to shut Confidencial down. But I repeat: they’re going to fail, and they’re failing. They’ll never be able to silence the journalism we’re carrying out. Confidencial’s newsroom isn’t the building they confiscated, nor is it this place that was looted.”
The latest raid on the Esta Semana studios
Carlos Chamorro finds it “impossible” to encounter any explanation for the dictatorship’s use of brute force against their newsrooms and studios. “From the outset, they’ve intended to squash press freedom, independent media, and journalists. Every time we journalists persist in our defiance their level of brutality and irrationality becomes still greater.”
“We’re working on a shoestring, but above all with determination, and with the conviction that the least we journalists can do is to remain firmly behind the truth. Remain firm in our reporting, keeping faith with the trust our sources have deposited in us. We’re here for the audience, for the credibility they’ve deposited in our journalism. It’s also important to recognize the will of the citizens to continue collaborating with the press,” Chamorro highlights.
“Journalists are united”
Despite the difficulties, “we mustn’t lose our spirit, because people need quality information,” declares Juan Carlos Duarte, director of Radio Camoapa. He’s suffered threats and harassment from the regime’s fanatical backers.
“Unfortunately, when you’re producing journalism in Nicaragua, you suffer the stigma of intolerance on the part of the powerful groups. (…) But it’s our vocation. Even though we risk our serenity and personal security, we must continue contributing to a better society,” Duarte states.
Duarte notes the growth of a cooperative spirit among independent Nicaraguan journalists, as a reflection of the profession’s maturity. He applauds: “the collaborative spirit that exists, with which the barriers of individual competition have been broken, and the doors of the shared struggle for truth have been opened.”
Journalist Wilfredo Miranda is a reporter for Divergentes and a correspondent with Univision. He said independent journalism is viewed as “one of the regime’s principal enemies.” Since April 2018, he points out, journalists have documented the crimes committed, the violations, massacres, imprisonment, and torture.
“They’ve decided that they want to break us, in a key year when it’s still unclear what kind of elections we’re going to have. (…) I know it’s wearing, it makes you fearful, to experience these cycles of violence. But we can’t give in,” Miranda asserts.
The journalist spent a year in exile, but he decided to return and assume the risks. He felt that he should be informing from on the ground. “Since 2018, everything has changed. We began to understand that the lone wolf reporter who went out alone on the street was finished. Now, we go out together for safety, and because it helps us beat the censorship they keep trying to impose,” he explained.
“Our fellow Nicaraguans help us go on”
The solidarity of the Nicaraguan exile community has also been key for those journalists who need to survive and still continue informing from outside the country. That’s the perspective of Gerall Chavez, co-founder of the platform Nicaragua Actual.
“We created this media company out of our determination to continue denouncing what’s happening in Nicaragua, and what the thousands of exiles are going through,” Chavez says.
The site was launched in February 2019. It’s been well received by its audience, but it’s subsisted on a very small income. “We’ve learned how to get some income from ads on our social networks, and that’s helped some. Also, we’ve had support from the population in the form of donations of equipment, internet time, even food,” he said.
“Since leaving the country, we’ve been clear that we won’t let the dictatorship get their way. They forced us to leave our homes. They’ve turned their fury against the journalists, because we’ve been the only ones who’ve continued informing, and we won’t yield,” Chavez insists.
Guillermo Rothschuh, a communications specialist, is also clear that the attacks on journalism in the country “have tended to worsen” since the social protests of 2018.
Still, he highlights the fact that “journalists have continued in their labors. This has caused the citizens to recognize that [independent media] has placed themselves on the frontlines of the defense of civil liberties.”
“Because of that, the population has a very high regard for the [independent] journalists. They’ve become references for information, they’ve reinvented themselves on new digital platforms and they’ve found a way to survive under the most precarious of conditions and amid the crisis,” Rothschuh remarks.
In contrast, he notes the great defect of the official press: “they assume the government’s discourse.” At the same time, the government journalists make the mistake of “pretending that people think in a unanimous way.