In an open letter, 28 academics, journalists and activists have slammed the Guardian for its “wildly inaccurate coverage of Nicaragua”. And for one human rights lawyer who signed the letter, this forms part of “the greatest misinformation campaign” he has ever witnessed.
Political tensions in Nicaragua
As The Canary has previously reported, Nicaragua has been convulsed by protests against the government of President Daniel Ortega since April. The demonstrations began over a government proposal to partially reform the country’s social security system, which was met with public outcry from across the political spectrum. The government withdrew the plans, but by then the mobilization had morphed into a broader movement calling for either Ortega’s resignation or the calling of early elections, which are currently scheduled for 2021. Opponents of the government claim that Ortega’s government has become increasingly “authoritarian” and that he has been attempting to establish a political dynasty. But others, including award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal, have argued that public unrest has been cynically seized upon by upper-class and Washington-backed opponents of Ortega, who have long held the objective of forcing him from office.
Either way, the protests have become increasingly violent and confrontational, and have in turn been met with a robust response from state forces which are attempting to contain the upheaval. Street battles have ensued between opposing sides. But while there have certainly been recorded incidents of violence on the part of both pro- and anti-government factions, most of the Western press has focused almost exclusively on the opposition’s stance (that the government’s response to rioting has been disproportionate, if not outright repressive) without giving sufficient attention to incidents of violence on the part of the opposition.
“Wildly inaccurate coverage” from the Guardian
An open letter on Max Blumenthal’s Grayzone website has now called the Guardian out for consistently placing the blame for Nicaragua’s violence primarily on the Ortega government. The letter – which has 28 signatories from across the worlds of journalism, political activism and academia – states that:
despite plentiful evidence of opposition violence, almost all your 17 reports since mid-April blame Daniel Ortega’s government for the majority of deaths that have occurred
The Open Letter To The Guardian On Its Wildly Inaccurate Coverage of Nicaragua points out that these articles have consistently omitted cases of government supporters being killed by government opponents, despite there being at least 21 recorded cases of such killings and several hundred more injuries. It adds that the paper’s articles have also failed to mention attacks on property by government opponents, which have included arson attacks on public buildings, the ransacking of shops and the destruction of homes of government officials.
The letter also points out that Guardian reports have overwhelmingly presented the views of long-standing government opponents as coming from neutral observers, often describing them simply as “human rights activists.” Several of its pieces were even written by Carl David Goette-Luciak, who the letter points out “openly associates with opposition figures.”
The media role in ‘weaponising’ Nicaragua’s unrest
The letter goes on to add that most Guardian coverage of the situation simply repeats the opposition demand that Ortega must resign from the presidency, while leaving out the fact that:
international bodies mediating the crisis (the UN, Organisation of American States and the Central American Integration System) have all rejected this as being unconstitutional and likely to produce chaos
Perhaps worst of all, the letter also accuses the Guardian of failing to mention in its reports the “detailed evidence that opposition groups benefit from millions of dollars in US funding aimed at “nurturing” the Nicaraguan uprising.” Max Blumenthal himself outlined this evidence in a recent article.
The letter does reserve one piece of praise, however, for a Guardian piece on a different subject penned by Simon Jenkins. In this article, Jenkins criticized the “rush to judgment at the bidding of the news agenda” in which “social media and false news are weaponised.” And according to the Grayzone letter, “this is precisely what is happening in mainstream reporting of Nicaragua.”
The letter concludes by calling on the Guardian “to take a more responsible stand, to challenge the abundant misinformation and in future to provide a much more balanced analysis of the crisis.”
The Canary contacted the Guardian for comment, but had received no response by the time of publication.
Human rights lawyer: “the greatest misinformation campaign I have ever witnessed”
One of the letter’s signatories – Dan Kovalik, a human rights lawyer and professor at the University of Pittsburgh – recently traveled to Nicaragua to investigate the situation further. Speaking to The Canary about Nicaragua, he said:
I am convinced that the mainstream coverage of the situation there represents the greatest misinformation campaign I have ever witnessed.
There has been no mainstream coverage I have seen about the violence perpetrated by the extreme opposition, though that violence has been substantial. As just one example, we met with the staff of RadioYa!, which was burned down to the ground by right-wing forces with 22 staff people inside. (Luckily, they managed to get out alive.) They told us that we were the first Western reporters to visit them and to listen to their story. There has simply been no attempt by the mainstream press to provide balanced coverage of these events, and the result is that the public has been greatly misled about what it is happening there. In short, the public is being led to believe that what is in fact a violent counter-revolution is somehow a peaceful, progressive revolution.
We deserve better
This isn’t the first time the Guardian has come under fire for its biased coverage of Latin America. When Rory Carroll was the paper’s Latin America correspondent, for example, he was roundly criticized for his heavily biased articles in which he dismissed criticisms of US meddling in the region.
Clearly, the long-heralded standard-bearer of left-leaning coverage in the UK has – on Latin America at least – turned into just one more mouthpiece for the pro-Washington, pro-neoliberal consensus of the mainstream Western press.
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