Journalist Lucía Pineda Ubau never imagined that after the 100% Noticias station was expelled from national television and the cable system, the channel’s facilities were occupied, and she was imprisoned along with Miguel Mora in December 2018, something worse could happen to the media outlet, which documented the April Rebellion. However, it happened: the regime's onslaught jumped from the physical to the digital plane. After being banned from traditional television, Nicaragua's YouTube media seek to generate income while they face attempts by the government and its supporters to denounce them and lead to the closure of their channels.
“They want to wage a scorched earth policy against us: 'I'm going to destroy you', 'I'm going to make you disappear as a media outlet'. That is what they wanted: to make our media outlet disappear. They could not do it when they threw us in jail, so they confiscated our building. We started working again. From an informative point of view, we were alive, fighting the battle on other platforms, when they began to do this (the copyright complaints) to make the media outlet disappear from digital platforms”, says the journalist and current director of the media.
After the confiscation of the facilities of 100% Noticias, the media migrated to digital platforms to remain active and continue informing the population, but this transformation has not been easy.
"It is well known that the (advertising) rates are lower, so what you have to do as a strategy is to have several (customers), even if you have low prices. This is to seek volume in the face of low income. With the low rate that they offer you, it’s different. You have to look for volume to bet on more ads to reach the goal", she explains.
- We recommend: Nicaraguan Immigration Threatens Foreign Residents
Like 100% Noticias, the media in Nicaragua have migrated to digital platforms, such as YouTube, in a search for subsistence. On one hand, forced to be where their audiences are, and on the other hand, as a way to generate income, after a sharp drop in advertising in the country.
Where does the revenue go?
The SembraMedia initiative, which trains digital media entrepreneurs in Latin America, calculates that today only 41% of total media revenues come from directly contracted advertising.
Meanwhile, 11.8% of revenue is received by Google AdSense, the monetization program of Google, the Internet giant; another 11.6% comes through donations made by foundations and grants; 11.5% by donations from individuals, and 10.4% by content service, design, or technology.
With the arrival of social networks on the scene, the media were forced to diversify their sources of income, which previously depended exclusively on traditional advertising.
Social networks expanded the reach of Nicaraguan media to new audiences, even beyond borders, and they also gained access to content monetization. In return, these platforms - which today are communication giants - have taken almost all of the advertising revenues.
According to data from MarketingLand, the platforms Facebook, Google and Amazon take 70% of the advertising spent by companies in the United States alone.
There is no similar data about Nicaragua specifically that can demonstrate the scope that social networks have had in the monopolization of advertising revenues. What has been demonstrated is that there are few Nicaraguan media that manage to directly negotiate their advertising, and on the other hand, many emerging media depend on the income that social networks give them.
"We haven't received a single dollar": The difficulties of monetization
A cell phone, a microphone, and a strong desire to continue reporting were all the resources that journalists Héctor Rosales, Leticia Gaitán, Yeltsin Espinoza, and Gerall Chávez had when they decided to create "Nicaragua Actual", a news space that was born in the midst of the exile of more than 100,000 Nicaraguans in Costa Rica. They themselves are part of those hundred thousand exiles who left the country, fleeing the political persecution that the Ortega regime increased after the massacre and repression of 2018.
The media outlet, created in February 2019, failed to generate income to maintain itself despite having a good level of acceptance from the audience, and four months after starting up, was forced to launch an S.O.S (through a live broadcast) to be able to continue operating.
"We are not ashamed to say it: we asked the people and that is how we were able to buy microphones and equipment to continue reporting... we could no longer continue, we had to pay for housing, food”, confesses Gerall Chávez, producer and co-founder of Nicaragua Actual.
More than a year ago, they received authorization to monetize their videos on YouTube, but they have not yet been able to withdraw a single dollar of what the advertising on their videos has generated, because they do not have an authentication code.
- You may want to read: Daniel Ortega talks about elections but remains silent about electoral reforms
"We promote the YouTube channel with the hope that someday we are going to be able to withdraw that money. But we have not been able to rely on ad revenue on YouTube," laments Chavez.
The path to monetizing on YouTube, Google's video platform, is not a simple one. You need to have more than 1,000 subscribers, have more than 4,000 hours of video playback in the last 12 months, and live in a country where the partner program is available.
If all requirements are met, the next step is to submit an application to the platform and wait at least one month for a response. After that, you must wait another month to start getting paid if you have already generated at least $100, and videos posted before that do not generate retroactive income.
There is no certainty about how much YouTube pays for advertising seen in content creators' videos. Nor is it known in detail how it allocates or caps revenue. Some estimates on the internet suggest that for every thousand views of an ad spot, a content producer can receive up to $18, as each view represents about 18 cents or a minimum of three cents. However, these calculations depend on different factors, including the geographic origin of the audiences and the cost of the ad inserted by the platform. In detail, YouTube has never disclosed its calculations to determine how much each content creator is paid.
La Lupa's videos: denounced by trolls
Maryórit Guevara, journalist and founder of the digital media La Lupa, comments that her income from social networks is so low that it is not enough to help the media sustain itself. La Lupa also emerged from exile due to persecution by the regime. Guevara left Nicaragua after several attacks, including graffiti on her home and threats on social networks.
In order to pay La Lupa's expenses, Guevara assures that the team has resorted to giving workshops, courses and generating sponsored content. They also have a person in charge of seeking income through direct sales.
"There is the staff that has been ad honorem, because there is no money. Much of the time we dedicate is voluntary because there is no money, with the hope that in the future we will be able to consolidate and sustain a minimum payroll," she explains.
In monetizing the videos produced, La Lupa, like many other Nicaraguan media on YouTube, has not been successful.
"Producing videos is a little more difficult (...), it has been a little complicated. Now you have to face all the trolling, which is something that anyone can do to you, not only those who are with the dictatorship. They report the videos", she says. Months ago, Facebook had given them the option to activate monetization, but after several reports against La Lupa's publications, they deactivated the option. "And they say that once they take it away, they won't give it back," she laments.
- You may find this interesting: The aspiring presidential candidates to lead the political opposition in Nicaragua
On YouTube, the story is similar. La Lupa celebrates two years of having joined the platform on January 31st, and all the videos in which President Daniel Ortega appears are reported, so that - even if they are the most popular - they cannot receive any kind of income for them. In addition, they have not reached the minimum audience to apply for monetization.
Janine Warner, the founder of SembraMedia, explains to CONFIDENCIAL that, in social networks, the media "play" under the same rules as other content generators. Therefore, she comments, they are exposed to the same problems, including the closure of their news spaces if they receive three penalties.
"We have seen, not only in Nicaragua but particularly in Nicaragua, that journalists who report from social networks receive complaints and lose their accounts for days, months or sometimes do not recover them," says Warner, who from her platform has tried to help affected journalists to recover their accounts blocked by social networks.
"We have used our connections to support these journalists. When we know that journalists, with a good reputation, lose these channels, we try to use our connections to validate so that they can renew them (the channels) in these companies. There is never a guarantee," she says.
Nicaragua Investiga: A success story
Growing, positioning, and generating enough revenue on digital platforms to survive is a process that can take years for content creators, but journalist Jennifer Ortiz and Nicaragua Investiga achieved it in months. Nicaragua Investiga, which was born in June 2018, managed in less than a year to meet the requirements and volumes of video playback to be able to generate revenue.
For media outlets that are older, or have other revenues that may include traditional advertising, the advertising revenue paid by YouTube would not make a difference, but for the small team at Nicaragua Investiga, it was crucial.
"We were surprised when we were approved and, when our first payment arrived, we didn't want to go to an agency, because we didn't believe that they had sent us money, that this (monetizing) could happen," remembers Ortiz, who continues to see YouTube as the central platform for her media outlet, which now has a website and spreads across different social networks.
- We recommend: 14 changes in Nicaragua with Daniel Ortega as president
Ortiz, who previously worked in several media outlets, including television channels, is modest about Nicaragua Investiga's success. However, in only two and a half years, Nicaragua Investiga has positioned itself as the fourth independent channel in Nicaragua with the most subscribers on YouTube.
The journalist believes that the key to having videos with more than two million views, and a reach that surpasses old media in the country, has been to create different content and reinvent itself every time someone copies its style.
Nicaragua Investiga already has more than 140,000 subscribers on YouTube, only surpassed by three independent channels: 100% Noticias, which has more than 200,000; Confidencial, with more than 250,000, and Canal 10, which is in the first position with more than 430,000 subscribers.
In an act of censorship against debate and interview-style television programs, and a new attack on independent media on Nicaraguan television, Daniel Ortega’s regime, through the Nicaraguan Institute of Telecommunications and Posts (Telcor), imposed television censorship on the programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, directed by journalist Carlos F. Chamorro, and the program Danilo Lacayo en Vivo. Up until January 2019, these programs had broadcasted on Channel 12, a media that today also faces a millionaire embargo from the General Revenue Directorate (DGI), which threatens an auction that would force it to close for good.
Two years later, the regime maintains television censorship and sustains a repressive escalation against freedom of the press, confirmed by national and international human rights organizations.
Currently, the shows Esta Semana and Esta Noche are only broadcasted online, through Facebook Live and the ConfidencialNica channel on YouTube.
From 2018 to date, Confidencial's YouTube channel has had significant growth, going from 20 000 subscribers at the beginning of 2018 to more than 60 000 in the first half of the same year, in sustained growth in 2019 and 2020, to add up to 253 000 subscribers at the beginning of 2021. Without a studio or equipment, after the assault and occupation of its offices in December 2018, part of the team also had to go into exile to protect their physical integrity and freedom in the face of persecution by the regime.
However, the production of Confidencial, Esta Semana, and Esta Noche remained uninterrupted and was able to maintain its quality. Production continued from the exile of its director Carlos Fernando Chamorro and its producer Elmer Rivas, in San José, Costa Rica, and members of the team who remained in Nicaragua or from El Salvador, the United States, and Mexico. Chamorro has highlighted the exceptional support of Teletica, which provided the necessary conditions and logistical support for the production and transmission of the programs.
In December 2020, two years after the assault on CONFIDENCIAL, Chamorro wrote: "We continue to demand the suspension of the police state, the release of all political prisoners, and the cessation of censorship and persecution against independent journalism. In spite of the physical occupation of our newsroom, they never silenced us, nor will they be able to use the new “Gag Law” to prevent us from continuing to monitor power, investigate and denounce corruption.
Today the programs are also broadcasted through a collaborative network that includes national and local radio stations and allied media such as Artículo 66, Onda Local, Radio Corporación, La Costeñísima, Radio Darío, Radio Camoapa, among others. However, publishing revenues remain limited.
Revenues through YouTube are much lower compared to those that can be obtained by media operating in open television, selling commercial advertising in prime time. YouTube's rules, which prevent the insertion of commercial spots, imply a drastic reduction in revenues, limiting the economic resources for the survival of the media.
The claim of pro-Ortega media outlets
Daniel Ortega's regime, however, has also found new ruses in its persistence to impose censorship: in a targeted manner, its related media denounce content from independent media, alleging copyright. These content claims include official events that are exclusively broadcasted by the state-owned Channel 6 and the media of the presidential family: a media emporium that includes five other television channels.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented the wave of repression against the independent press in Nicaragua, including harassment, threats, surveillance, and imprisonment. In addition, the closure and confiscation of media outlets, censorship on television, and complaints of copyright violations by pro-government media outlets.
In March 2020, Channel 4, owned by the Ortega Murillo family, made some 50 copyright claims against the 100% Noticias YouTube channel. Since the maximum number of penalties allowed on this platform is three, the blocking of 100% Noticias, with more than 194,000 subscribers (at that time) was imminent.
The videos for which Canal 4 denounced 100% Noticias were appearances of Daniel Ortega and corresponded to years prior to the social outbreak of 2018. The journalist and director of the media, Lucía Pineda Ubau, denounces that it was an illogical claim because for using "the figure of Ortega as president of the Republic there should not be any type of claim", because they are public images in acts where, in addition, access to the independent press is prohibited.
In an article published in May 2020, CPJ's Central America correspondent, Dánae Vílchez, also documented how Confidencial has had to contest claims of copyright infringement, which were also for images of presidential speeches.
The claim, registered in June 2019, came from Canal 13, another channel owned by the Ortega-Murillo family, which claims ownership of the official videos as a reason for the claims.
"We have investigated what prevented last week's transmission, and today we can confirm that our program and ConfidencialNica were subject to an attempt of censorship on social networks, promoted by the television channels of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship," confirmed Carlos Fernando Chamorro in June 2019.
Journalist Elmer Rivas, producer of the programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, detailed to CPJ that "if they (the pro-government media) publish videos of something that should be public - for example, the president's speeches - they do it as if it were a private production and claim it as their own."
"Censorship goes from the physical sphere, where they do not let us into public events, to the digital sphere, where they want to take us off YouTube," Rivas added.
Chamorro declared through a live transmission on social networks and on CONFIDENCIAL that "our defense on YouTube has not been to dispute intellectual property rights or commercial rights of third parties, which we will always respect, but to defeat the censorship of the dictatorship, and to enforce the principle of free access to public information, which is a constitutional right of all citizens."
The risk of “turning off” independent platforms
The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), Pedro Vaca, warns, in statements to CONFIDENCIAL, that “insofar as only the official voice is present, there is an institutional capture of the public debate”.
“As long as the speaker of the official voice is a permanent and far-reaching speaker, the speaker or the platforms through which the official action is questioned is fading, diminishing”, warns the special rapporteur.
All social networks allow anyone to make a copyright claim for content found on the Internet, but the propaganda machinery of the Ortega regime has taken copyright claims to levels that allow it to censor platforms that are not to its liking.
In this "complex and increasingly hostile panorama", as warned by the IACHR, digital platforms have allowed media to be out of state control and to bypass the siege of censorship in order to continue reporting.
Since the citizen rebellion of April 2018, more than twenty news platforms have emerged in Nicaragua. However, the regime machinery has found a weapon in copyright complaints to censor and boycott independent media.
Lucía Pineda Ubau recognizes that "right now the only means of subsistence, of existence, of visualization, that 100% Noticias has, is its web page, its YouTube channel and the other social networks", and warns: "If they block these platforms for the dissemination of information, they leave us with our hands up".
This article has been translated by Ana María Sampson, a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam and member of our staff*