Safety of reporters questioned after journalist killed in Nicaraguan protests

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Students and journalists protest in memory of murdered journalist Angel Gaona. 


Questions have been raised about the freedom and safety of the press in Nicaragua, after violent protests resulted in the death of a journalist.

The protests, which have seen dozens killed and hundreds injured, began on April 18 after the Nicaraguan government announced a plan to increase taxes and decrease pension benefits.

Among the dead is local journalist Ángel Gahona, who was fatally shot in the capital Managua while filming a Facebook Live broadcast covering the protests on April 21.

Nick Richardson

Monash University journalism lecturer Dr Nick Richardson said the shooting pointed towards a lack of safety for those reporting from the field.

“A journalist’s mission is to be on the street and incidents like these invite them to evaluate the value that they put on such assignments,” he said.

“With a phone and internet connection every individual has the potential to be a reporter. These citizens out on the streets give the reporters a tough fight and there is an even bigger need for the (reporters) to excel. This demands the reporting be of a higher quality – but it’s dangerous as well.”

The Nicaraguan Centre for Human Rights reported the journalist’s death represented an escalation of violence toward the press, as well as a violation of freedom of expression.

A radio station was burned down by an unknown group during the protests and for a period of time, multiple TV channels that were covering the protests were blocked and taken off-air.

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A masked demostrator shows a bullet shell and a stun grenade, fired by riot police during clashes in Nicaragua yesterday. 

“The criminal act represents an escalation of the violence that journalists have suffered in recent days, as well as the violation of freedom of expression,” a statement from the human rights group said.

As the protests escalated, demonstrators called for President Daniel Ortega’s resignation.

Raul Sanchez Urribarri

La Trobe University Crime, Justice, and Legal Studies lecturer Dr Raul Sanchez Urribarri said the journalist’s death raised questions on both freedom of expression and safety of the press.

“Without a doubt Gahona’s death questions freedom of expression but it also raises the bigger question of personal safety for the others reporting,” he said.

“Journalists threaten the power struggle and in doing so they are effectively playing their role. But their reports often get politicised by the government or their opposition to suit their needs.”

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organisation reports Nicaragua has partial freedom of press, scoring 55 out of 100 last year, with press facing political and judicial harassment under the Ortega government.

While Australia, like Nicaragua, does not have a legalised system in place to protect the freedom of the press, Dr Richardson said he did not believe the country needed one.

“Australia has never felt the need to legislate a principle, freedom of expression in this case. If there ever does come a time like that, then the country is significantly different from what we think it to be,” he said.