MANAGUA, Nicaragua — President Daniel Ortega said Wednesday that he will not allow an anti-Sandinista group to operate its own television station.
Citing the terms of the Central American peace accord that requires "complete freedom" of press and broadcast media, Nicaragua's main business federation had asked for a television license two months ago. In the first official comment on the request, Ortega told reporters that television broadcasting will remain in the hands of the state.
"What we are willing to do is give them space on state television, just as we give space to opposition parties to express themselves," Ortega said. "This is a practice in some European countries."
The Sandinista leader made his remarks in a televised round-table discussion with 11 Nicaraguan journalists. In a lively exchange with an editor of La Prensa, he backed off on a threat to shut down the opposition newspaper if the U.S. Congress votes new military aid to the Contras.
Enrique Bolanos Geyer, president of the business group, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise, said Ortega's comment on its licensing request means "he is not complying with what he signed. The peace agreement is very clear."
The accord, signed Aug. 7 by the five Central American presidents, calls for a number of democratic reforms aimed at ending guerrilla wars in Nicaragua and elsewhere. It says "all ideological groups" have a right to "open and operate" media without prior censorship.
One of Nicaragua's two television stations was in private hands until the Sandinistas took it over after coming to power in 1979. Current law gives the government exclusive responsibility for television broadcasts.
Bolanos said the Interior Ministry has not formally replied to the request by his group, which is allied with the conservative political opposition, to run a "semi-educational" station.
Opposition leaders ridiculed Ortega's suggestion that they seek air time on state television. In the scant coverage they now receive, they said, their views are often distorted.
'Twist My Words'
"When they twist my words in an offensive way, I cannot appear on another channel to defend myself," said Enrique Sotelo Borgen, a Conservative Party legislator in the National Assembly. "If Nicaragua is to have real political polemics there has to be a new channel."
To comply with the peace accord, Nicaragua last month allowed La Prensa and the Roman Catholic radio station to reopen after more than a year. But the Interior Ministry has not yet allowed any independent station to broadcast news.
For the first time since its reappearance, an editor of La Prensa, Cristiana Chamorro, was allowed to question Ortega, as part of the panel discussion sponsored by the Sandinista television network.
The president opened the exchange: "Is La Prensa for or against the $270 million (in Contra aid the Reagan Administration is expected to seek from Congress) to make war in Nicaragua?"
"La Prensa is for democratizing Nicaragua in a way that would assure that Congress does not approve this aid," Chamorro replied.
"But is it or is it not in favor of the aid?" Ortega insisted.
"You could say it is against the $270 million," she said, "Because La Prensa doesn't want war."
Later, Chamorro hedged her position, saying La Prensa could not state an opinion because it is a matter of internal politics in the United States. But when Ortega demanded a clarification, she said: "We are in favor of the peace accord, so that means we're against the $270 million."
"Then La Prensa has nothing to worry about," Ortega said. "Rest assured that La Prensa is not going to be affected even if the $270 million" is approved.
Later, he added: "If La Prensa does not receive money from the CIA, it is free of sin and has nothing to worry about."