Members of the National Police stand outside the Canal 12 broadcaster in Managua, Nicaragua, on January 24, 2019. A court recently ordered the outlet's assets to be seized. (AFP/Inti Ocon)

Nicaragua court seizes assets of independent broadcaster Canal 12

Managua, Nicaragua, September 14, 2020 – Nicaraguan authorities should immediately release the assets of independent broadcaster Nicavision Canal 12 and allow all media outlets to work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On September 11, Managua Judge Luden Quiroz García ordered the seizure of the outlet’s assets, including the channel’s main offices, vehicles belonging to the station, and a house belonging to Mariano Valle, whose family owns the broadcaster, according to reports by local news website Confidencial and daily La Prensa, and a statement shared on Twitter by Canal 12.

Quiroz García’s ruling enforced a decision by the Nicaraguan General Income Directorate, the country’s tax regulator, that Canal 12 needed to pay 21 million córdobas (US$607,000) in back taxes due to an “additional tax assessment” relating to the station’s tax filings from 2011 to 2013, according to those reports.

The seizure has been partially imposed as of today, according to Carolina Valle, Canal 12’s editor-in-chief, who spoke to CPJ in a phone interview. She said that the outlet remains on the air, as its newsroom and broadcast facilities have not been seized, but added that workers have not received their most recent paychecks because the outlet cannot access its bank accounts.

“Nicaraguan authorities should stop using financial investigations to intimidate independent media, and should allow Canal 12 to report freely without fear of reprisal,” said CPJ South and Central America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “These arbitrary ‘tax assessments’ are just the latest tactic as the government of Daniel Ortega continues looking for ever-more creative ways to silence Nicaragua’s few independent media outlets.”

Canal 12 has been under audit by the General Income Directorate since 2018, when the station reported on protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega, according to Valle.

She told CPJ that she views the seizure of Canal 12’s assets as “political retaliation” for the outlet’s editorial line, which has been critical of the Ortega government, saying the outlet has faced “continuous harassment from every state institution.” Valle said the amount of the penalty was “totally arbitrary.”

Canal 12 is one of the few independent television stations that continue to operate in Nicaragua, where many media outlets are owned by members of the president’s family or their allies, according to CPJ research. Another outlet, Channel 10, is also being investigated by the General Income Directorate and faces a similar tax assessment of more than 110 million córdobas (US$3.18 million), according to Nicaraguan news website Articulo 66.

CPJ emailed and called the General Income Directorate for comment, but did not receive a response.