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Carmen Aristegui: “Censoring CNN is another attack on press freedom in Nicaragua”

The director of “Aristegui Noticias”, says the measure seeks to “silence, censor and diminish Nicaraguans’ possibilities of accessing information.”

Journalist Carmen Aristegui, director of the website Aristegui Noticias and of the CNN interview program “Aristegui”. Photo: EFE.

Carlos F. Chamorro

27 de septiembre 2022


Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui is the renowned director of the website Aristegui Noticias and anchor of the CNN in Spanish program simply called “Aristegui”. In her view, the Ortega regime’s decision to block the international news channel CNN in Spanish from the Nicaraguan cable networks confirms that the regime “has flouted all possible boundaries,” demonstrating that “they don’t care anymore what those outside the country think.”

Without citing any evidence, Rosario Murillo, the regime’s vice president, and head of government communications, justified the move by accusing the international news chain of “foreign interference” and of supposedly violating Nicaragua’s controversial “Law for Sovereign Security”, approved in 2015. The CNN network had been transmitting in Nicaragua for 25 years.

The blockade was carried out by the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications (Telcor). Again, according to Murillo, this institute has a duty to oversee “the protection, defense and preservation of the principles, rights and guarantees” established in the Constitution. Aristegui called it “madness to appeal to a Constitution.”

“It’s a clear attack on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of Nicaraguans and citizens to be informed,” the journalist stated. Arostegui spoke on the weekly news program Esta Semana, in an interview broadcast Sunday, September 25, over YouTube and Facebook Live, as the only way the program can circumvent Ortega‘s censorship.

“Obviously, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has positioned itself on an absolutely atrocious path, which must be condemned. What has happened with CNN is one more chapter in a completely inadmissible reality,” Aristegui stressed.

Vice President Rosario Murillo justified the censoring of CNN in Spanish by alleging that the news reports on this channel are foreign interference and violate the Constitution and the Nicaraguan laws. What’s your reaction as a journalist who’s been covering the crisis in Nicaragua?

It’s insanity to appeal to a Constitution. Of course we respect the Constitutions of the countries, as journalists and as individuals in our own nations. But to say that CNN was violating the first article of the Constitution – where the topics of independence, sovereignty and autonomy are defined,- and that, consequently, the Nicaraguan authorities should mandate a decision of this nature, justifying it with this argument, borders on the Kafka-esque.

What’s happening is a clear attack on freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of Nicaraguans, of citizens, to be informed, to have an option for information such as CNN or other media. It’s not only about this international news channel. We know perfectly well that the situation in Nicaragua has exceeded all the limits and gone beyond what any degree of basic tolerance for a democracy could support.

The dikes have crumbled, as well as the essential structures that situate free expression, a free press, and the right to information as the principal pillars of a democracy. In this case, there isn’t one.

It’s a clear dictatorial action, an authoritarian action. It’s one more step of the many they’ve already taken. We’re talking about boundaries that are flouted, now even extended to informational spaces of an international character. Of course, in the very first place is what has happened to journalists like you, like your family, and other Nicaraguan journalists, media outlets and spaces that have been overwhelmed.

There’s a move towards annihilation, erasing the one standing before me who doesn’t agree with me, with no degree of basic acceptance for different opinions, or the right to dissent: the two most critical tasks of journalists. The regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo has clearly positioned itself on a track that’s utterly reprehensible and should be condemned. What’s happened to CNN is one more chapter in an inadmissible reality that’s been ongoing for all too many years now.

In 2018, during the moments of greatest tension and severity of the crisis in Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega accepted an interview for CNN with Andres Oppenheimer. During his appearance, he attempted to justify the repression being exerted by the paramilitary forces. Why is the site being censored now, when just four years ago Ortega was speaking on CNN?

Because he’s now broken every possible boundary in such a way that it doesn’t matter to the regime anymore what the opinion is outside the country. That little grain of sand was left, for projecting an image that could be reasonably swallowed internationally, considered acceptable. Now, not even that concern is left.

Not even that tiny edge is left, whereby a leader who can be completely authoritarian in his own country pastes on a smile, some face that could appear acceptable outside the country. I believe that interview with Andres Oppenheimer told us that the leadership still had that little thread where, outside the country, he wanted to appear to be what he isn’t.

This decision adopted by Ortega can be compared with the decision [to block CNN] made by Nicolas Maduro in 2017. What consequences did censoring CNN and taking it off the television and cable grid have for Venezuela?

The two decisions are first cousins, because they both seek to silence, censor, and diminish their citizens’ possibilities of having a choice of information – first there [Venezuela], and now in Nicaragua.

The consequence for Venezuela was to add another element that identified the type of regime governing the country, just like is happening here.

In your country [Mexico], the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who proclaims himself a defender of national self-determination, runs a permanent campaign of intimidation and attacks on the media and journalists, including yourself. Has Lopez Obrador openly censored media outlets, or international media like CNN?

They’re different profiles, both equally worthy of criticism if you want to see it that way. In Mexico, however, there’ve been no actions of this nature, where they say – turn off their signal, close the window, cut off the electricity, make them disappear from the screen – that type of brutal action hasn’t occurred in Mexico, and I don’t believe they will.

What we do see is another kind of approach that doesn’t help feed free expression, nor encourage a more robust journalism. Rather, there’s a calculated political action to frame critical journalists as enemies. That’s the political scheme wielded by Lopez Obrador, Ortega, Bukele [in El Salvador], and that Trump also utilized.

Unfortunately, we have a pattern of conduct on the part of those governing, who clearly view the segment of national reality that has to do with free expression, critical voices, the counterweights to power, as if they were political adversaries. These rulers then act accordingly, with direct attacks using first and last names, demonizing people they don’t like, or who could be critics of their government. They can even smear those people, look for elements that serve for this. Even if the journalists don’t get crushed, these smear campaigns damage the reputations of people or media, or of other bodies that such governments and others within that same model consider would be better off not existing.

That attack on all four flanks goes against the basic concepts of democracy, tolerance, pluralism, criticism, the free exercise of ideas, the access to information that should be free and robust.

People need sharp and critical journalists, media that demands answers, groups that demand accountability of their rulers. All that is part of the ABCs of democracy, but they end up being seen as something that should be demonized, discredited, attacked, scorned. Just what one wouldn’t expect from a statesperson.

Blocking an international channel like CNN poses a challenge to audiences, in terms of how to seek information, and also a challenge for journalists on how to get around the censorship. How effective are the digital and other platforms these days in circumventing the television censorship?

Their effectiveness depends on the ability of each person is to have internet access. Basically, [the effectiveness of digital media] depends on whether people in Nicaragua or Venezuela can access the internet, and if their signal is good and open and can reach the spaces that are being offered through the internet.

Essentially, the effectiveness doesn’t depend on the media site, which has no problems getting its message out, but on those who are going to receive it via technology.

What’s your opinion of the role of social media? The social networks are criticized as places that promote polarization and misinformation, but, on the other hand, these networks are a channel through which the media outlets can disseminate their information.

You just said it: lights and shadows. The world of the internet users and social media is an extremely powerful space, a privileged opportunity for millions of people to connect and communicate independent of other channels. That, in itself, is extremely valuable. However, what you mention also happens: that powerful communications system that should be destined to empower citizens – so that people can send ever more messages and receive messages freely – is also contaminated by an entire industry. There are bots, there are scams, there are those who try to induce certain kinds of conversations, who contaminate the public dialogue.

Society is trapped in its own decision to use those networks – because they belong to society – and to sort out what is really an organic, genuine conversation that can be critical and irreverent, but that’s free from the other type of conversations that have been impacted by systems designed to manipulate the social dialogue.

Those very powerful and important tools are not necessarily being utilized in the way you’d hope – to the benefit of people, of countries, of free expression. It’s a mixture, where the most you can hope is that people will have the criteria and discernment to identify what’s garbage and what’s communication from other people or media.

How does the international prCarmess view this crisis in Nicaragua, that has been going on for four years now? Can the Ortega regime impose an informational blackout on international public opinion?

We must inevitably go back to history. I’ve had the good fortune of speaking with you on different occasions, and on some of them I’ve asked you about the story of Nicaragua itself and of Daniel Ortega. It’s highly disturbing to observe the evolution of a person, of the two particular people who are directly governing Nicaragua. These figures that formed an important part of an entire society’s decision to shake off a dictatorship, to take power, who then perpetuated themselves in power and went on to do things with that power that are so dramatically distant from their origin – going from being a key figure for a revolution and having been democratically elected, to what he is now. In the end, he’s nothing more than a dictator. It’s a drama for Nicaragua; it’s a drama within that biography; it’s a drama any way you look at it.


This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and  translated by Havana Times


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Carlos F. Chamorro

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.