Americanism abroad : Nicaraguan media and regional context


The perception management of foreign politics for imperialist propaganda purposes works across countries as a self-fuelling, one-sided Moebius-strip production line. Re-selling by corporate US media of the propaganda spin retailed as “news” by television channels in Venezuela is the best known example. An unusually flagrant exposé of this degenerative international media symbiosis occurred on Fox News recently when New York councillor Charles Barron was called a “son-of-a-bitch” by Adam Housley, Fox’s correspondent in Caracas, during an exchange in which Barron contradicted Housley’s mendacious reporting on Venezuela.

Disinformation and outright falsehoods broadcast in countries like Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico become fake virtual news that is then broadcast as if it were real in the imperial centres of North America, Europe and the Pacific. This in turn is made to produce a re-confected virtual reality that is then retailed back as the basic premise of news analysis by international corporate news outlets to media in the original source countries. The process not only validates the original propaganda but itself tends to generate yet more fake virtual news to feed the cycle.

Self-perpetuating and vicious, thoroughly disingenuous and totally political, this cycle is probably the single most important perception management mechanism for promoting Americanism. The cycle’s purpose is to subordinate the interests of all the peoples of the Americas, and beyond, to the aims of the United States‘ plutocrat corporate elite and their allies. This all-pervasive perception management production line is at work constantly, almost everywhere in Latin America, but is especially noticeable in countries where governments develop strategies contrary to the policies of the US government, its European and Pacific allies and their respective multinational corporations.

The aggressive politicization of corporate media outlets and their disinformation output is an established fact throughout Latin America. Freedom of speech is regularly hijacked, given a brutal working over in corporate editorial conference rooms and then thrown back out onto the airwaves and the printed page. The corporate media make-over varies from country to country. In Venezuela, corporate editorial-brutalized freedom of speech gets dressed up as a victim of State repression. In Mexico and Colombia, it appears as the endlessly harrassed public good under threat from popular movements exercising basic rights but branded as vicious terrorists. The same corporate gangsterism is at work in Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua. It both serves and feeds dominant local corporate political options. Currently, Nicaragua is an especially good example of this phenomenon.

The media in Nicaragua

Since the Sandinista-led FSLN coalition won the election in November of last year, local opposition media have struggled, obviously trying to work out a clear strategy to destroy the new government’s credibility. As in countries like Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela the main television channels and daily newspapers are all owned by elite local and regional corporate interests. The only important Sandinista television outlet is the Multinoticias news programme on Channel 4. Reports that the multi-government backed Telesur media company may help the FSLN-led Ortega/Morales administration resurrect the moribund State-owned Channel 6 television station have been greeted with paranoid suspicion from the country’s existing corporate media. They are all for competition, but only from people who think like them.

Among them, the Channel 2 television station and the La Prensa daily national newspaper consistently push the Americanist views of Nicaragua‘s traditional oligarchy. They support National Liberal Alliance (ALN) leader, banker Eduardo Montealegre, unconditionally. The other national daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario supports the dissident Sandinista Renewal Movement (MRS) reflecting the Americanist views of the centrist professional and managerial classes. Channel 8, predominantly a news channel, runs the MRS-aligned “Esta Noche” and “Esta Semana” current affairs programmes, presented by media empresario Carlos Fernando Chamorro.

All these media are categorically hostile to the FSLN and, to a lesser degree, to the Constitutional Liberal Party led by disgraced former President Arnoldo Aleman. They all offer an analysis of Nicaragua‘s political reality that is firmly rooted in the premises of Americanism. Their advocacy of corporate democracy necessarily entails support too for some variety of the forever-notional free market economy, inevitably rigged in favour of concentrated foreign capital. They look to US and European liberalism for models of the corporate-friendly modernization they deem essential for Nicaragua‘s development.

They promote the corporate capitalist model of integration : concentrating wealth among an elite, consolidating a corporate-friendly professional and managerial middle class and a trickle-down poverty-reduction strategy for the impoverished majority along with  debt-plus-aid interventions from the United States and its Pacific and European allies. An important component of these interventions is a major role in that debt-plus-aid model for NGOs. The most politically assertive of the managerial classes who make a very comfortable living out of the NGO sector are represented by the Coordinadora Civil many of whose members actively support the MRS and are also part of the anti-FSLN Movimiento para Nicaragua.

Conversely, the FSLN-led coalition favours integration via ALBA – the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, formed initially by Cuba and Venezuela and now incorporating Bolivia, Nicaragua and some Caribbean nations. This model prioritizes bilateral government agreements  to foment a broad range of exchanges covering trade, educational and cultural initiatives, finance arrangements and regional health programmes as well as major capital investment projects. It seeks to prioritize local grass roots participation that will undercut the self-appointed NGO sector’s claims to represent the interests of the impoverished majority. ALBA prioritizes social responsibilities and poverty reduction rather than making them an afterthought to gross corporate privilege.

Manufacturing pretexts : RCTV and half-baked exposé

No surprise then that Nicaragua‘s right-wing dominated National Assembly approved an interventionist  motion of censure against the Venezuelan government for its recovery of the broadcast frequency previously conceded to RCTV. That vote marked a categorical shift to the right by the MRS whose members supported it. Normally vociferous attention seeking self-styled left winger Monica Baltodano kept a low profile as she abstained. MRS spokesperson Victor Hugo Tinoco candidly admits that a political deal with the ALN in preparation for the muncipal elections in 1998 is under discussion.

These political moves mirror the integration of dissident sandinista media personalities into the broad right-wing and centre media onslaught against the FSLN-led coalition government. Even Channel 2′s weekly cultural magazine programme “Tertulia” regularly features anti-FSLN hatchet jobs presented as topical interviews by veteran journalist Edgar Tijerino. It is hard to believe the news manufacturing process between Channel 2 , Channel 8, La Prensa and Nuevo Diario is not coordinated at some level by the individual members of Nicaragua‘s tiny corporate media mafia.

On the RCTV issue, all these media sided with the corporate media gangsters of the Venezuelan oligarchy. Chamorro’s Esta Noche programme ran a friendly interview with representatives of the Latin American media bosses’ organization the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa (SIP). Chamorro followed this up with a hostile interview of the Venezuelan ambassador whom he failed to trip up into admitting a revanchist political motive for the Venezuelan government’s decision not to renew RCTV’s broadcast licence. Even so, in an immediate to-camera editorial following that interview, Chamorro insisted that whatever the ambassador might say, the non-renewal of RCTV’s licence was a politically motivated, discretionary decision of President Chavez.

Cleverly taking advantage of the orchestrated regional international political outcry around bogus “freedom of expression” concerns, Chamorro was able to place the RCTV related editions of his programmes in the week immediately after a programme alleging high-level government involvement in corrupt land deals. The programme was a skewed exposé by Chamorro’s Esta Semana team of one of the innumerable corrupt land deals that have characterised Nicaragua’s chaotic property law ever since the 1990 election which left vast tracts of land and innumerable individual properties in a legal no-man’s land. The effects of that mess prevail right up to the present, making property transactions in Nicaragua a veritable Klondike for disreputable and unscrupulous business people, lawyers and investors and corrupt government officials as well as sling-enough-mud-sure-some-of-it’ll-stick political journalists.

Screening their badly-researched exposé at this juncture was very clearly politically motivated. The exposé attacked the FSLN leadership personally by making baseless claims of their involvement in corruption. It also played on the “freedom of expression” motif by claiming that the exposé placed its instigators at risk of politically motivated repression. The programme’s substantive accusations were made by a local businessman about land investments in the Tola area of Nicaragua‘s Pacific Coast. The exposé inexplicably excluded very serious accusations by local rural workers in the area against that businessman, put to Chamorro months previously according to the rural workers concerned, but ignored.

Subsequent enquiries by the attorney general’s office demonstrated that one key allegation – that the corrupt land deal was negotiated in the FSLN’s head office – was completely false. During the period in question the individuals concerned never entered that office, rigorously controlled by the Nicaraguan police. The Sandinista Multinoticia’s news programme pointed to potential conflicts of interest in Chamorro’s own relationship to the contentious property deals. But the truth of the matter – who did what to whom over a few dozen acres of land – is perhaps much less important than the affair’s manipulation by leading anti-FSLN media empresarios like Chamorro and his colleagues in Nicaragua’s media industry.

The ALN aligned Channel 2 resurrected old archive footage of the allegedly corrupt official in a meeting with Daniel Ortega. Whenever the case is covered on Channel 2 the technique has been to run the archive footage for about 15 seconds before putting up a tiny “archive” sub-title to indicate the footage is not current. Chamorro can certainly distance himself from this blatant intellectual dishonesty but he has achieved his probable aim which, despite transparently cynical claims to be merely anxious to expose corruption, was most likely to smear the FSLN leadership. Few other constructions can be put on Chamorro’s politically motivated selective reporting, given the consistent anti-FSLN Americanism both of his current affairs television programmes and of Confidencial, his MRS aligned web magazine.

Think globally, act locally : Americanism does too

Recent editions of Chamorro’s nightly current affairs programme Esta Noche are characterised by the kind of slavish Americanism one has come to expect from a political movement content to seek anointment from the US State Department as “democratic” and to accept financial support from the US Republican Party’s electoral intervention specialists, the International Republican Institute. One recent programme allowed a representative of the private foundation of pro-US Costa Rican President Oscar Arias to assert that the upcoming referendum in Costa Rica on the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) was not in fact about the benefits or otherwise of CAFTA, but rather about the validity of Costa Rica’s State-owned insurance and communications companies. Chamorro said nothing about this glaring distortion, despite the widespread rejection of CAFTA in Costa Rica which made the referendum there necessary in the first place .

Another programme included Alejandro Bendaña, former diplomat in the first Ortega government along with Segio Garcia Quintero (1) a right wing foreign affairs commentator and former diplomat to discuss President Ortega’s official visit to Iran. Chamorro twice allowed Garcia Quintero to repeat the lie that Iran’s Prime Minister had called for Israel to be “wiped from the map” without comment. In another edition, Chamorro and dissident Sandinista economist Alejandro Martinez Cuenca managed to get through a whole programme supposedly analysing Nicaragua’s economic outlook without mentioning the possible recessionary and-or inflationary consequences of a decline in the dollar through the end of 2007 into 2008 – probably the single most serious threat to the success of the FSLN-led coalition government’s economic policies. Similarly, with both Bendaña and Aguirre and with Martinez Cuenca, Chamorro failed to analyse in any depth the strategic importance for the ALBA bloc of President Ortega’s recent visit to North Africa and Iran.

Unfortunately, Chamorro’s trivializing, petty Americanist brand of analysis and reporting is, with hardly any exceptions, pretty much as good as mainstream national Nicaraguan journalism gets. One has to go to Radio La Primerisima, via its radio broadcasts in the capital Managua and its web site, to find one of the very few locally important news outlets currently committed to a sincere effort at more or less fair and independent coverage of events in Nicaragua. But Nicaragua’s mainsteam corporate media are following the well established trend by which regional news reporting and current affairs analysis are made to follow the psychological warfare agenda of the US government and its allies.

Just as in Venezuela, corporate media domination of news and current affairs outlets is accompanied by regular absurd cries of alarm about threats to freedom of expression. In Nicaragua, as in Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia, a highly politicised corporate media elite puts its communications apparatus to work ceaselessly at the disposal of the local oligarchy and their foreign backers. As in Venezuela, the anti-government media are in many ways substituting for the failure of the opposition political classes to effectively challenge the FSLN-led coalition government.

President Ortega’s visit to Algeria, Libya, Iran, and Senegal was very clearly a move to develop the ALBA bloc’s wider policy of cooperation among countries of the Non-Aligned Movement. This is an obvious and  necessary step towards the combination of less developed economies to defend their interests against rich country domination via corporate globalization. ALBA is perhaps the most advanced prototype of this kind of anti-imperialist cooperation.

The Nicaraguan President’s discussions in Algeria, Libya and Iran will certainly have included technical training and cooperation components to ensure the successful construction and operation of the new oil refinery to be started this year on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast with funding from Venezuela. As the FSLN-led coalition government sucessfully consolidates its domestic policies and the ALBA bloc develops a coherent common foreign policy, the Nicaraguan media will take on an ever more significant and active role in defending local corporate interests and attacking the country’s people-first government. The next big test in this power struggle will be the municipal elections towards the end of 2008.

toni solo is an activist based in Central America – see toni.tortillaconsal.com

Note: The version of this article originally published in ZNet mistakenly named Francisco Aguirre instead of Sergio Garcia Quintero.

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