Mass media appeared in Nicaragua between 1880 and 1900, when print outlets such as newspapers, weeklies and magazines first became available to the elite of the era. In 1920 the first radios emerged and rapidly strengthened their position, managing to be the most consumed media among the population in the years 1948 to 1980, as stated by the research Volver a Empezar by Guillermo Rothschuh. TV broadcasting started at the end of the 1960 and was limited to a very small audience due to its high economic cost. TV started becoming inexpensive and extremely popular in the 1980s; since then it occupies the first places of consumption among the population. After 2010, with the massive arrival of cell phones, the use of Internet and social networks has increased, becoming soon its main competitor.
The history of Nicaragua is marked by wars and internal political conflicts. Several radio stations have faced the consequences of the dictatorship, being closed or destroyed for opposing the regime. The political instability reflects in the positions that traditional media have had and in their connection with the political power of the day. With the socio-political crisis of 2018, there were further divisions and the polarisation of media increased and became more evident in 2019. There are at least three marked positions: One is the media conglomerate controlled by the Sandinista government (with seven TVs including the parliamentary channel and a private pro-government channel called Extraplus); then the group of private media controlled by Mexican businessman Luis Angel González, which tries to balance between information from both the government and the opposition; the third group is comprised of corporate media such as El Nuevo Diario and Channel 14, which oppose the government as do other outlets owned by independent entrepreneurs, such as La Prensa, Channel 12, digital media Article 66, Confidential, Nicaragua Investiga, Ecological Bulletin and several radios.
Journalism started in Nicaragua after independence from the Spanish crown (1821). The Nicaraguan Gazette was the first official newspaper, founded in 1830. Subsequently, some periodicals emerged giving professional guidelines for journalistic writing . The first formal daily, entitled El diario de Nicaragua, appeared in the city of Granada in 1884, founded by the intellectuals Anselmo H. Rivas and Rigoberto Cabezas. In the following years other newspapers appeared, although with limited impact. On 2 March, 1926 La Prensa was first published, which as of 2019 is the oldest newspaper in circulation.
With the emergence of radio in the 1920s and television in the 1960s, the need to train journalists became urgent, leading in 1960 to the opening of the first school of journalism at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua). The journalism profession has been historically difficult, because of the low salary and the fragility of the practice, since any person from high school or another profession can become a journalist, which brings down the quality of journalism at a national level. By law, the Colegio de Periodistas (College of Journalists) must ensure the profession, yet it does not fulfill its functions. In some cases, journalists don’t even earn the minimum salary of 6,000 córdobas, equivalent to US$181 per month as of April 2019. In general, journalists are poorly paid in most media, which prefer to hire students of Communication or other careers who are likely to accept low salaries. Another limitation that journalists face in Nicaragua is that most media do not pay social security, barring them from accessing social security at the reaching of retirement age. The Colegio de Periodistas handles a list of more than 100 people who are given a monthly financial aid to buy food and medicine. Many journalists with national relevance actually come from other careers, such as Carlos Fernando Chamorro, the economist-turned-journalist who as of 2019 is one of the most influential personalities in the country, and others mostly coming from law or economy backgrounds. Even Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, businessman and prominent journalist considered a national hero for his contribution in the fight against the Somoza dictatorship writing on newspaper La Prensa, was a lawyer by profession.
Since their emergence after independence, media in Nicaragua have been under the influence of governments, with the result of several closures when they have dared to criticise the ruling parties. In August 1960 the Code of Radio and Television was approved by the Congress, comprising of 73 articles that regulated broadcasting. It was signed by the President of the Republic Luis Somoza. The radio and television code was later labelled the
“Black Code” allowing the Somoza government to censored media. The code was abolished by the Sandinista government in 1980, but a new code was established with the same characteristics of controlling and censoring the media opposed to the Sandinistas. During the Sandinista government (1979-1989), newspapers and radios such as La Prensa and Radio Coorporación were closed for being critical of its policies. In general, censorship prevailed over media that reported independently and only outlets close to the government enjoyed press freedom.
It was not until 1990 that President Violeta Barrios by Decree 1-90 abolished such a model of political-military state characterised by control and censorship. The issuing of such decree can be considered the official birth of freedom of press and expression in Nicaragua. During the so-called era of neoliberal governments (Violeta Barrios 1990-1996), freedom of the press was fully respected, contrary to the following governments of Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2001) and Enrique Bolaños (2002-2007), which practiced an economic kind of censorship, awarding prizes or punishments to media according to their degree of critical reporting.
With the return of the Sandinista government presided by Daniel Ortega (after 2007), control of the media has started again through economic censorship, the granting of frequencies and open persecution in 2018. The government losed an all-news cable TV channel for being critical of its actions. All the property of the channel was confiscated and Director Miguel Mora and Press Chief Lucia Pineda were arrested. For the same reasons, the government has also closed two feminist stations, Radio Palabra de Woman, located in the municipality of Paiwas (South Caribbean) and Radio Voz de Mujer in the northern department of Nueva Segovia, as well as Radio MiVoz of the León department.
According to the report of the Mecanismo Especial de Seguimiento para Nicaragua (Special Follow-up Mechanism for Nicaragua - MESENI) of the Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights - CIDH), harassment, persecution and attacks on journalists have increased significantly in 2018. This is confirmed in a research by the Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, that, in 2018, reports the murder of journalist Angel Gahona and 420 cases of violations of press freedom, of which 77 assaults, 71 acts of intimidation, 70 attacks, 64 forms of censorship, 62 threats, 33 defamation cases, 26 verbal harassments, 10 administrative restrictions and 5 judicial harassments against journalists and independent media.