Closing inconvenient broadcasters by claiming that their licence has expired is a typical vice of authoritarian regimes. Which, in the most perfidious guises, do not respond to broadcasters or do not issue a receipt even if the publisher delivers the application in person (this happened in Nicaragua to the bishop Rolando José Álvarez, we reported on it here). But in a democratic state, gagging stations is a little more difficult. As the recent case of Nigeria shows: last week, the chairman of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) had given 53 radio and television stations 24 hours to pay the fee or else be suspended from broadcasting.
An appeal was immediately lodged against the article in the regulation that NBC wanted to use to revoke the licences (claiming that it is unconstitutional and illegal, as it violates freedom of expression), and also against President Muhammadu Buhari. In defence of the broadcasters, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a non-governmental organisation that protects economic and social rights in Nigeria, and the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) have come to the defence. Justice was swift: on 29 August, Judge Akintayo Aluko of the Federal High Court in Lagos issued an interim orderpreventing the revocation of the licences and adjourned the case until 8 September 2022.
The closure, on 1 August 2022, of eight Catholic radio stations linked to Bishop Rolando José Álvarez of the diocese of Matagalpa (we reported on it here) was only the beginning. Telcor, the Nicaraguan communications regulator, deactivated other radio and television channels, again on the grounds that they were no longer authorised, bringing the number of closures to 17. Last in order, Radio Dario (89.3 in León), considered one of the few voices critical of Ortega, was deactivated on 12 August. For73 years, it was the oldest Nicaraguan radio station and had managed to continue operations despite an arson attack in 2018, during anti-government protests, that had destroyed the studios.
The list of closures grows longer
Radio La Guarachera, operating on 96.5 in Chinandega, and Radio Sky, on 102.9 in León, both owned by exiled journalist Anibal Toruño, went off the air. And then Radio San Carlos 94.9, owned by the exiled former liberal mayor of the municipality of San Carlos, Silvio Linarte. The same fate befell Radio Vos, a community radio station that promotes and defends women’s rights and had followed events: it had been broadcasting for 18 years on 101.7, in Matagalpa. Finally, Radio Stereo Sol, on 102.5 from Santa Maria de Pantasma, has been on air for 16 years. Also, there are two television channels from Nueva Guinea: Canal NGTV3, owned by journalist Carlos José Suárez Jaime, and Canal RB3, owned by Daniel Mendoza, who inaugurated it 24 years ago.
Less and less opposition
According to the Nicaraguan movement of independent journalists and communicators (PCIN), the Ortega government has exiled more than 120 journalists, including the editorial staff of the daily newspaper La Prensa, making criticism of the government disappear from the written press, television and radio programmes. An estimated 30 stations have been closed since 2014, more than half in August 2022 alone.
Consequences also for the bishop Rolando José Álvarez: because he had refused to have the stations closed down, he was forced to remain locked in the curia for 16 days, controlled by the national police, who eventually placed him under arrest.