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In Nicaragua, iconic journalist leaves TV network

January 22, 2010

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – After weeks of speculation and rumors that Channel 8 TV, Telenica, has been purchased by President Daniel Ortega´s Sandinista Front for $10 million, Nicaragua´s leading journalist, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, announced Sunday that he will no longer be a part of the government-controlled station.

Chamorro, a leading critic of Ortega and son of martyred newspaper publisher Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, who was gunned down in 1978 for criticizing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, said he refuses to be Ortega´s accomplice in any way.

“Today I ratify my position in front of Nicaraguan society that I don´t want to be a partner or collaborator with Mr. Ortega, either directly or indirectly, in any of his economic or political businesses that seek to help him whitewash his authoritarian image,” Chamorro told the cameras, during what was to be his last show of “Esta Semana” (This Week), Nicaragua´s most-respected and viewed weekly television news program.

The award-winning news program, which started airing in 1994 on Channel 2 TV, has been airing on Channel 8 since 2005. Esta Semana has become a weekly institution in the homes of thousands of Nicaraguans every Sunday evening.

Chamorro´s nightly news talk show, “Esta Noche” (Tonight), began airing on Channel 8 in 2006.

Combined, the two programs helped set the pace for other news outlets, influence national debate and expose corruption and fraud.

“As the most influential journalist in Nicaragua, Chamorro´s programs are vital for the debate of issues of public interest. Therefore, not having that space for discussing issues that affect the daily lives of many Nicaraguans will have a large impact on freedom of expression in the country…. Nicaraguan democracy will suffer a blow,” Carlos Lauria, senior Americas program coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told The Nica Times in an e-mail.

Chamorro said some of his viewers urged him to stay on Channel 8 after Sandinista media envoy Alberto Mora allegedly had told him his existing contract would be honored under the new Ortega ownership. But Chamorro said his decision is one of principle, and he can´t be part of any manipulation by Ortega to clean his image.

“No one is more interested in my staying on at this channel than Ortega himself,” Chomorro said. “The continuance of the programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche would validate his history of abuses against the freedom of expression during his presidency. Even worse, he wants to make us accomplices in his aggressive policies towards other journalists and media; my continuance at this channel would create the image of tolerance that the regime has never had nor will ever have toward independent media in this country.”

As a result, Carlos Fernando Chamorro says he is signing off in order to honor his mother, former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, and the memory of his father. At the moment, he said, there are no other offers from other TV channels to pick up his shows.

“In the meantime, I have profound faith that Nicaragua will change irreversibly once everyone starts to make decisions based on principled ethics,” Chamorro said.

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