Costa Rica

COSTA RICA In the coming months a proposed reform to media legislation could ease the legal restrictions on Costa Rican journalists. The reforms are intended to relieve editors of the objective responsibility now required by law for everything published by their news organizations. The current legislation requires the editors to censor ideas and opinions of others, even when they are published in paid advertisements or news stories. There is the intention to introduce in legislation new defenses for journalists accused of slander, libel or defamation. If the legislation is approved, a journalist working with due diligence who is not aware that information is false cannot be convicted for publishing an inaccurate statement unless there is a clear intention to insult someone or actual malice. Under the reform, the courts will be reqUired to weigh the existence of fraud and the failure to use due diligence before issuing a verdict of slander, libel or defamation. At this time, the only defense for a journalist accused of slander, libel or defamation is exceptio veritatis or the defense of truth which in practice moves the burden of proof onto the defendant. However, a proposed law being considered by legislators for two years contradicts the good intentions of the proposed media legislation reform. This bill, being studied in a legislative committee, includes such dangerous measures as the establishment of a press ombudsman. In another case, an appeal by La Nación newspaper against a libel damages award to former public security minister Juan Diego Castro Fernandez, has not been resolved. The ex-minister's lawsuit concerned a news story and an editorial about the official protection given to Castro after he resigned as minister despite the fact that the newspaper's sources said no threats had been made against him. There was also a news story and editorial saying that weapons had been illegally removed from the Internal Security office of the Public Security Ministry. The information in La Nación was based on internal reports of the Public Security and Justice ministries, charges by the most important union of public employees in the country and statements by various officials. Former minister Castro repeatedly refused to talk to journalists seeking his version of the events. The editorial commented on the reports and asked the Public Ministry (the state prosecutor's office) to investigate, since they involved government property. Castro accused the newspaper of slander and defamation. The court unanimously cleared the journalists of slander, but a majority of the judges convicted them of libel, a crime that was not even mentioned by the plaintiff when he filed the lawsuit. The president at that time, Jose Maria Figueres, testified in the trial as a witness for Castro. He did not testify to the facts of the case, but to the alleged harm the publications caused the former official. Other members of the Figueres family (a brother and his mother) attended every session of the Six-day court hearing. Also, there has been no resolution of a challenge to the constitutionality of the Entertainment Law brought by Luis Cacheri, a movie theater owner. He said parts of the law prohibit, rather than simply rate, various types of public performances.