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Dismissed journalist reveals El Nuevo Diario's true colors
"There is an unspoken rule that we should not cover anything positive the government does"
Statements by Eloisa Ibarra
abridged and translated by Karla Jacobs
11th March 2009
One of Nicaragua's most distinguished journalists, Eloísa Ibarra, was sacked from El Nuevo Diario last month after working with the daily newspaper for ten years. Publicly her former employers, Danilo Aguirre (director) and Fernando Chamorro (owner / editor in chief), claim the reason behind her dismissal is that she was not producing enough work.
Ibarra, however, believes her employers based the decision on her refusal to abandon a position of impartiality and approve the newspaper's active role within movements fiercely opposed to the FSLN government.
Below is a summary of Ibarra's statements about the events surrounding her dismissal and the unjust treatment El Nuevo Diario journalists have been subjected to during recent years. The following statements are taken from a press conference Ibarra gave at the Nicaraguan College of Journalists on March 3rd and an interview on Channel 4's "En Vivo" program with journalist Alberto Mora on March 5th.
It is important to note that the March 3rd press conference was not covered by either of the daily newspapers (El Nuevo Diario and La Prensa, both owned by the Chamorro family) or by Channel 2's TV Noticias (one of the most popular TV news programs and the most fiercely anti FSLN program on national TV).
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Press Conference, Nicaraguan College of Journalists, March 3rd
I want to tell you about my dismissal. On February 13th Doctor Danilo Aguirre [founding director of El Nuevo Diario] called me into his office and said that I was going to be fired ... and that he was giving me the opportunity to resign first.
I said that if I was going to be sacked I had the right to know why. So he said it was because the newspaper was experiencing financial difficulties. I asked if he thought it was right to sack someone who had given so much to the newspaper for that reason. He responded that I would not be the only one, so I said, that may be the case but I am the first.
Then he said that was not the only reason - he said some of the other journalists were not happy with my positions. So I asked which journalists and which positions, because contrary to what he said I know the other journalists have great faith in me. [They have told me that] lots of the issues I bring up in editorial meetings reflect their own take on different matters.
He did not know what more to say and finally said that there were other reasons. "Like what?" I asked him. ...
"You know," he said, "things are complicated with the government ... one is obliged to take positions."
So then I said "now I am beginning to understand." ... I said to him that I agree with the newspaper criticizing the FSLN government when necessary ... but that I am totally against the newspaper basing its coverage of events on the experience and opinions of only one side and omitting the experience and opinions of the other side.
"Nicaragua's problems are not just the results of current government policy," I said, "they are due to political problems, to problems within all the different political parties, they are due to positions that certain businessmen hold, they are due to lots of different things and not just to what the government does."
And I said to him that for the same reasons [former president Arnoldo] Aleman had come to power, because even though lots of [scandalous] things were known about him they were covered up [by certain media outlets] in order to support him politically. And now the same thing is happening with [former presidential candidate] Eduardo Montealegre [implicated in the CENIS scandal along with 38 other former public officials].
I told him that I stand by the work I did in relation to the CENIS scandal and that I would not change my position just because [the newspaper's directors] want to cover up certain things about Montealegre and other people.
Then at the end I said to him, "you are also a journalist, and both of us know why you are firing me." He didn't reply. ... "You aren't sacking me because I am a lousy journalist, or for any other valid reason, but because I insist on maintaining my positions of independence and objectivity."
Our conversation finished there and the next day they sacked me refering to article 45 of the Labour Code - which is for when there is no just cause for dismissal.
Inside El Nuevo Diario, because people were unhappy about my dismissal, Francisco Chamorro called a meeting and said to the other journalists that I had been sacked because I was not producing enough work.
The reason I am here is precisely because I want to clarify this matter. ... If El Nuevo Diario had really been able to argue that my dismissal was due to low levels of production, they would have applied article 48 of the Labour Code. ... But what they mean when they say low production level is my failure to produce enough articles from the point of view El Nuevo Diario has now adopted ... the point of view of the opposition.
I am [giving this press conference] because inside El Nuevo Diario, the journalists are suffering. The freedom of expression the newspaper says should exist in the outside world is not reflected within the editorial offices. The journalists are not told to write articles in a certain way, but they understand that that is what is expected of them. Because [if articles are not in line with the director's political position] then they don't get published.
There is an unwritten rule that nothing should be written about anything good that the government does - that the government should be permanently criticised.
I am here [giving this press conference] because I think that it is time for us journalists to start to build up the courage to speak out about what happens inside the editorial offices. We cannot go on keeping quiet. We cannot go on allowing only the truths that they want to be heard to get out there.
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Interview with Eloisa Ibarra on "Revista En Vivo con Alberto Mora," Channel 4, March 5th
Alberto Mora: Are you dissapointed [about your dismissal]? ... I want to be honest, I am not surprised, are you? Do you feel hurt?
Eloisa Ibarra: I am not surprised because I saw it coming. Now I am making public everything I said inside El Nuevo Diario, for example, about Danilo Aguirre having involved himself with the opposition group.
AM: They asked you not you have political loyalties, right?
EI: During the electoral campaign [leading up to the municipal elections last November] they called all the journalists to a meeting and said that we should not bring out political loyalties with us to work. I said that I agreed with the policy, but that they shouldn't ask that of us if just a couple of hours beforehand Danilo Aguirre had appeared in a press conference as a member of a group which defines itself as a government opponent. ...
During my time at El Nuevo Diario I didn't keep my criteria quiet. Everything that I am now saying in public, I would say it constantly, daily, at meetings. I even had the courage to question Danilo Aguirre in a meeting with the entire editorial team.
After that meeting someone said to me "Eloisa, Aguirre will never forgive you for that." Just like in the past people said to me that the Chamorros would never forgive me for including Jaime Chamorro's name in my investigation about the CENIS scandal. ...
AM: So you would have had to have a clear confrontative position, let's say, against the government in order to preserve your job? Is that the logic of employment within the newspaper?
EI: Yes, that's right. And that is why I have insisted that us journalists have to overcome our fear, we cannot go on allowing ourselves to be hijacked by the owners of big media. They cannot oblige us to go on telling lies in order to keep our jobs.
I think that right now it is more necessary than ever that the media acts responsably. Considering the situation in Nicaragua at the moment, for the good of the country, we cannot go on inventing, creating situations just because of some political or economic interest.
AM: You mentioned the word lie. What are you refering to?
EI: For example, how can one permit a headline when the government intervened in Tropigas saying "They confiscated Tropigas"? They know perfectly well that it wasn't a confiscation, it was an intervention. Doctor Danilo Aguirre is a lawyer and knows what a confiscation is and what an intervention is. Deep down they knew perfectly well that [what the government did] benefitted ordinary people. ...
AM: It is an unscrupulous thing to do. It also reflects an attitude of hate, ... there is terrible personal personal hatred there. I don't understand it.
EI: There is personal hatred and there are economic interests that are far too big. ... El Nuevo Diario was treated very well by the previous government. During the Bolaños Administration La Prensa, El Nuevo Diario and Channel 2 passed all the [government's] publicity. The journalists could not say much [against the government] precisely because of that, because there would be too much to lose. That is what is that the bottom of all this. ...
AM: [At El Nuevo Diario] do they edit journalists' reports much?
EI: They change bits around, they add bits. My report from the day the accusations in the CENIS case were presented was changed, bits were added. I complained about it. I wasn't going to allow them to do that with my piece, they didn't even change my name.
I think that if the government is doing something wrong, a serious, responsible media outlet should point it out but not in a hateful manner, not with an underlying political intention, it should be pointed out in a report based on responsibly reported truths. I think that it is actually useful for the government when things are reported in an objective way because then they can correct things.
AM: Information is sacrificed for political interests, Eloísa?
EI: That is what is happening, and I think this is the moment for journalists, and not just El Nuevo Diario journalists, but journalists from all the different media outlets, to start ... valuing ourselves more and demanding respect. [We must demand] an end to the violation of our rights - because the most important right a journalist has is to tell the truth, to write about events as they happened and not to lie to readers.
A week before my dismissal Francisco Chamorro stooped really low - he censured an opinion piece of mine in which I was discussing how media companies, and especially TV media companies, are sacking journalists in order to take on models or students in first or second year at university who don't know anything [about journalism]. ...
AM: All this talk about censureship. They talk a lot about government censureship, but this media dictatorship carries out vicious censureship of [government programs]. ... Like you said, they'll say "we're not interested in this," but maybe that story is something positive for ordinary people. ...
EI: [The bosses at El Nuevo Diario] defend the right of micro credit outfits to competetive conditions, something they say is affected by the government's Usury Zero program. Several times I said to Francisco Chamorro at meetings;
"Francisco, this program may not benefit us, but it does benefit a whole lot of poor people. You know that they hardly pay any interest, and for someone really poor to receive 5,000 córdobas is a big help - for you and I perhaps it wouldn't be significant, but for poor people it is."
So then he said to me that the government only selected FSLN supporters to be benefitted with the program. And so I said that I know people, people close to me, who do not support the FSLN, and they received Usury Zero - no one asked them if they supported the government or not. So [what El Nuevo Diario says about this matter] is false - they shouldn't be allowed [to publish] that. ...
I totally agree that the press should criticize the government when necessary, but not in this way, covering up good things and magnifying bad things.
AM: Let's talk a bit about the [electoral] campaign [during the run up to the municipal elections of last November]. In the campaign El Nuevo Diario had a position - they supported their candidate like other media outlets do.
EI: The campaign was terrible. Once at a meeting just a couple of weeks before the elections I asked Francisco ... if we were going to do some kind of report taking stock of the campaign as a whole so that people see that El Nuevo Diario is imparcial.
So he said "have you got a problem [with the newspaper's coverage so far]?"
"Of course," I said, "up until now we have only covered one side's campaign."
So he said "we don't cover the FSLN because they deny us information, they don't invite us."
"But Alexis and Daysi are out there campaigning on the street," I said, "we don't need them to invite us. We follow Montealegre around wherever he goes." ...
I remember that when we were asked not to bring our political loyalties into the office a colleague said to me "I feel like the only loyalties they want us to leave outside are FSLN loyalties, because I see other party loyalties inside the office." They've got that journalist on their black list.
They used to say that certain journalists were moles, that we were passing information to the FSLN. It was like being in a mad house, definitely, the persecution was madness, just because we had our positions, because we thought independently. ...
AM: What about social security, labour rights, is there much abuse in that regard, Eloísa? Yesterday [when I heard you talking about this subject] I was shocked ... when you said that workers didn't have the right to get their dinner paid for unless they were working after 10 pm.
EI: Who eats at that time?! Can you imagine, the poor drivers at midday, sitting in the van in some parking lot - they aren't given expenses to buy lunch. It is especially wrong to apply this policy to drivers, who earn so little. ... When journalists or photographers travel outside Managua they aren't given expenses beforehand.
Then there is the case of one poor photographer whose lense was broken in a rally. Who do you think paid for it? The photographer. ...
AM: What about overtime? ...
EI: El Nuevo Diario doesn't pay overtime. Workers have to work overtime but it isn't compensated. ... For example, when we were covering the trial against Aleman which lasted two months, sometimes I worked from seven in the morning until midnight, but I wasn't paid any hours of overtime.
This is why in El Nuevo Diario we wanted to form a workers union - we wanted to introduce a system where workers mark cards when they arrive and leave work and for any time over and above the normal working timetable to be paid as overtime.
El Nuevo Diario and the other media outlets need unions so that all of these things can be clarified. For the good of the journalists, and above all for the good of the country, the situation can't go on like this.
We cannot permit a situation where journalists are hijacked, are forced to respond to the interests of media company owners. Journalists depend on their salaries, they have to look after their jobs....
I insist, it is time for media company owners to rethink their strategy, for the good of the country, because they are doing Nicaragua so much damage. They are leading the country and the people towards a dangerous uncertainty, towards confrontation.