Nicaraguan Filmmakers See a “New Censorship” on the Horizon

The cinemateca (National Film Center), located in Managua.  Photo from government website

Bill to give the National Film Center the power of censorship control could be included in the legislative agenda this week.

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Experts believe the new bill to reform and amend Law 909 – the law which originally created the Cinamateca Nacional [National Film Center] in Nicaragua – will be approved to become one more link in the chain of censorship imposed by the Ortega-Murillo regime. On Thursday, October 6, the draft bill was approved by the National Assembly’s Commission on Education, Sports and Social Communication. It now heads to a vote in the full legislature, totally controlled by the government.

The bill elevates the Cinemateca Nacional to the role of regulating all film and audiovisual projects produced in Nicaragua, or planned for release in the country.

If the bill is approved, the Cinemateca would be empowered to “authorize the preproduction, production, filming, exhibition or distribution of national and international audiovisual and cinematographic projects in Nicaragua.”

As such, “all individuals or legal entities, national or foreign, that want to develop audiovisual and cinematographic activities of any nature within Nicaraguan territory, must comply with the registration requirements established by the Cinemateca Nacional and be granted authorization for carrying out such activities.”

Filmmakers concerned

The creation of this regulatory body is happening two months after a journalist team from “TV Azteca”, led by Mexican journalist Otoniel Martinez, managed to spend two weeks in Nicaragua documenting the daily lives of Nicaraguans, despite the ongoing police state. The anchor, together with two colleagues, entered Nicaragua from Costa Rica as tourists, in order to get around the dictatorship’s strict controls on national and international journalists.

A Nicaraguan filmmaker, who asked to remain anonymous, stated that the bill has generated concern in the industry, since it places special emphasis on control, oversight, and potential censorship of audiovisual materials. This situation, occurring as it does amid a context of government and police persecution, could be applied at the government’s discretion.

The initiative confers powers on the Cinemateca National that could be considered unconstitutional, the filmmaker believes. “No government should have any power to authorize, oversee, or control thought or artistic creation.” In addition, the source pointed out: “this follows the pattern of the curtailing public freedoms in Nicaragua.”

On the other hand, the bill postulates: “a registry of film production activities, which could certainly be part of any law to encourage filmmaking. However, when viewed in the context of government and political persecution of any different way of thinking, this legislation is troubling. Because it could also be used in a way that responds to the government’s discretionary interests.”

Intensified censorship

Attorney and legislator Eliseo Nuñez sayd the initiative spearheaded by the Presidency is aimed in practice at creating “a censorship body” for the national and international media, since the regime doesn’t have the capacity to regulate all the material that citizens produce on their cellphones.

“This is directed essentially at the media,” Nuñez warned. “Not everyone on social media will be required to hold a permit, but if someone posts something that they [the regime] feel is harmful to them, then, in addition to accusing them under the Cybercrimes Law, they’ll inform them that they lacked the needed audiovisual permit,” he continued.

The regime also wants to regulate the production of documentaries in the country. The attorney saw this situation as “an unmistakable symptom of an utterly closed regime,” that is leading the country backwards “towards the era of the Soviet Union.”

The Cinemateca Nacional is currently a decentralized entity aimed at promoting and distributing all aspects of filmmaking and the audiovisual arts, such as the recovery, restoration, preservation, and distribution of the national and international film heritage.

In the last few years, however, the center has become especially relevant to the work of international media outlets. The foreign press identifies Idania Castillo, current director of Nicaragua’s Cinemateca Nacional and ex-wife of one of the presidential couple’s sons, as a channel for communication with the presidency.

Material could be confiscated

With this bill, the Cinemateca Nacional could “rule on quality control measures,” for film and audiovisual products produced in Nicaragua. Such measures could consist, among other things, in “prohibiting the development, public exhibition, and commercialization of film and audiovisual products, as well as the seizure of the same.”

Spanish journalist Daniel Rodriguez Moya, producer of the documentary “Free country for living”, said the reform headed for approval in Nicaragua is, “basically a law of absolute control.” With it, the regime will have a legal framework to authorize what you can or cannot record in Nicaragua.

“It’s clear that any journalist or film producer who wants to work in Nicaragua but who opposes the regime’s vision and comes with the idea of denouncing the dictatorship, won’t be authorized,” Rodriguez commented. He also recalled that in previous years the Ortega regime has denied entry into the country for international journalists who were attempting to document the reality in the country.

For his part, Eliseo Nuñez noted that the confiscation of audiovisual material “is something they were already doing,” in a de facto way. “But now, they’ll have a law empowering them to confiscate all audiovisual material, and not to allow the entry of cameras or other equipment” he stressed.

Since 2018, when the media and the population used their cellphones to document the repression that followed the protests against the regime, the police and government sympathizers have tried to confiscate cameras, telephones and any device used to register what was happening in the country.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.