Press freedom improved slightly in 2003, but ominously two journalists who exposed drug trafficking were threatened.
Press freedom increased a little in 2003, mainly because the row between President Enrique Bolaños and his predecessor, Arnoldo Alemán, who was accused of corruption, ended with Alemán being put under house arrest and then imprisoned. In 2002, supporters of the two men had attacked media they charged had favoured their adversary.
Two journalists who reported on drug trafficking were threatened. This was new and worrying, though things were hardly comparable to Colombia, despite the sometimes alarmist statements of Bolaños. Colombian cocaine passes through Nicaragua on its way to the United States and Europe and all over the world drug barons are a sometimes deadly menace to journalists who denounce them.
Journalists physically attacked
The entire media boycotted the 24th anniversary celebration of the police on 5 September 2003 in solidarity with several journalists who had been roughed up, among them Jorge Loáisiga, of the daily La Prensa, Aura Torres, of the TV station Canal 12, and Marcela Rivera, of the TV station Canal 10, who said police wanted to keep them away from the celebrations and had physically prevented them taking pictures or speaking to an official.
Two photographers, Miguel Alvarez (Agence France-Presse) and Osvaldo Rivas (Reuters), two cameramen for the TV stations Canal 8 and Canal 10, a journalist from Canal 2 and others from a radio station were injured during a student demonstration on 11 December against government education cuts. The journalists were caught between riot police and protesters, overcome by police tear-gas and hit by objects thrown by students at the police.
Stones were thrown at the house of Sergio León, correspondent for the daily La Prensa in the southeastern town of Bluefields, on the night of 18 May 2003. He had written extensively about drug trafficking in the region, including the arrest of police accused of being involved. He had previously been threatened by drug dealers.
A suspected drug trafficker, Pablo Lastangarth, and two other men threatened journalist Walter Treminio Urbina, with a beating on 4 June in the town of Bilwi if he did not stop reporting on drug smuggling. Treminio Urbina, correspondent in the northeastern town of Puerto Cabezas for the daily La Prensa, had written about botched investigations into drug trafficking and a picture of Lastangarth had been printed with the article.
Harassment and obstruction
Judge Juana Mendez banned Eloísa Ibarra, of the daily Nuevo Diario, on 22 October 2003 from reporting the return of a mobile phone to former President Arnoldo Alemán (1997-2002), who was in jail for alleged corruption, saying Ibarra had "twisted news." The judge had ordered the return of the phone, contradicting a previous decision by the interior minister. On the day of the ban, Ibarra had written in the paper comparing the privileges enjoyed by influential prisoners and the strict application of the rules to other prisoners.