The relationship between politicians and media in Central America is quite often characterized by tension and hostility. At 12 July 2007, both parties joined in an open dialogue at a conference in Managua, Nicaragua.
In Nicaragua the need for a dialogue between government and press has become very apparent over the past 6 months. The Sandinist Front for National Liberation (FLSN), who recently forms the ruling party after 16 years of opposition, clashes frequently with certain media. One of the leading critics of the Sandinist government is the renowned journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro – one of the key note speakers at the conference. His articles have provoked strong reactions by government officials, further raising tensions and hostilities in the highly polarized Nicaraguan society.
The two-day conference attracted around 70 journalists, politicians, academics and international experts. Among them was the Venezuelan communication expert Alejandro Alfonzo who called upon the media ‘not to act like a tribunal or a political party when covering politics.’ At the same time, he said that ‘political parties should modernize themselves and take their internal democracy seriously.’
Among the participants there was an overall consensus that the quality of politics in Central America is poor and that standards for journalism need to be raised. Other taboo subjects that came to the table were concentration of media ownership, corruption and wrongful applications of the laws on press freedom.
The conference, initiated by NIMD, Freevoice, Radio Netherlands International, the UNDP and several others (see below), was a first step in establishing an ongoing dialogue between politicians and media in Central American countries.
The various meetings which were characterized by an open and critical atmosphere and a high level of self-reflection, can be considered a promising incentive. Various participants mentioned that only a few years ago a similar initiative would not have been possible.
Disappointment with democracy
Yet, a lot remains to be done. Most people in Central America are disappointed in their new democratic governments, which were established after long periods of dictatorship, civil war and large scale human rights violations. The new leaders have not yet been able to live up to the expectations of the population and most societies in Central America are still characterized by violence, poverty and corruption.
However, it is widely recognized that there are no viable alternatives to the democratic system. Therefore a lot of time and effort have to be invested in the strengthening and improvement of the young democracies in Central America. Improving the relationship between politics and media is a crucial part in this.
The conference in Managua is part of the Media and Politics Programme which consists of a series of regional and national meetings and workshops to create an ongoing dialogue between journalists and political parties about their mutual relationship. The next regional meeting is scheduled for early 2008 in Guatemala.
The Media and Politics Programme is organized by NIMD, Radio Netherlands International, Freevoice (the Netherlands), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Radio Netherlands Training Centre Costa Rica (RNTC), Department For International Development (DFID – United Kingdom), Agency for International Cooperation (AECI - Spain), Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), Institute for Press and Society (IPYS - Peru) and DOSES Guatemala.