11 July 2001


Government uses placement of advertising to blackmail media

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(RSF/IFEX) - In a letter to President Arnoldo Alemán, RSF expressed concern over the flagrant reduction in official advertising granted to the private daily "El Nuevo Diario". The organisation asked the president to explain why this reduction had occurred. "It is crucial that an independent institution is created that is in charge of dividing the state advertising budget among the media according to some objective criteria," remarked RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard. Principle 13 of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, adopted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, notes that "...the arbitrary and discriminatory placement of official advertising and government loans (...) with the intent to put pressure on and punish or reward and provide privileges to social communicators and communications media because of the opinions they express threaten freedom of expression and must be explicitly prohibited by law."

According to information collected by RSF, on 29 June 2001, "El Nuevo Diario" reported that as of the middle of June it had not been granted any official advertising from President Alemán's government. According to the newspaper, the authorities have furthermore instructed a number of ministries and institutions to cancel their subscriptions. The government has not provided any rationale for these measures and the fact that they were both implemented at the same time is said to have been "coincidental" by Presidential Spokesperson Martha McCoy. According to the daily, the measures are not intended to punish "El Nuevo Diario" for a specific article, but rather are a "reaction to the newspaper's critical opinions and its ongoing reports on corruption." Noting that "El Nuevo Diario" has been forced to reduce its purchase of newsprint and its number of pages, the newspaper's editor-in-chief Francisco Chamorro protested President Alemán's intent to "have the newspaper disappear from the stands."

On 24 August 2000, the daily "La Prensa" reported that it had been discriminated against in terms of receiving official advertising and as a result was forced to drastically cut down the number of pages it could print. The newspaper spoke of the government's "advertising penalty". In October 1999, Jaime Chamorro, the daily's director, had pointed out that the newspaper "La Noticia", close to the circles of power, received 25% of the state advertising budget when it only represented 1.43% of readers. In contrast, "La Prensa", representing approximately 50% of readers, received 34% of the budget.


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