Costa Rica

COSTA RICA As has been the tradition, the Costa Rican press works in a climate of freedom and guarantees. However, there are regulations affecting the full exercise of those liberties, despite steps taken by press organizations, the media and individual journalists to remove them. These legal limitations have led to judicial rulings which affect the press adversely. The National Newspaper Association (CADINA) has challenged the constitutionality of the Electoral Code for establishing prior censorship and restricting expression and the publication and transmission of advertising. Apart from this, there has been the departure of Humberto Arce from his position as editor of the daily La Republica and the return of journalist Patricia Sanchez to her job with state-owned Canal 13. Arce attributed his departure from La Republica to political pressure, an assertion that was denied by the newspaper's directors. Sanchez returned shortly after the Constituional Court ruled in her favor on a relief petition which also ordered that her program "Bosque Adentro" return to the air, after having been suspended by the directors of the channel. In early January, attorney Jose Manuel Gutierrez filed a motion challenging the constitutionality of Articles 2 and 1 0 of the law that regulates media ownership. The articles prohibit foreigners from holding an interest in the Costa Rican media. Gutierrez is a lawyer with the Canadian group Hollinger, which controls 51 per cent of the shares of the daily La Republica through a trust. The Constitutional Court has yet to rule on the motion. January 17 - The criminal court of Perez Zeled6n convicted Efrain Sanchez, editor of the daily Estrella del Sur, of libel against ex-deputy Alberto Esquivel Volio. The paper had reported in 1990 mysterious airplane movement in the early morning hours at Esquivel's farm. Sanchez appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. June 9 - Journalist Humberto Arce left his job as editor of the daily La Republica shortly after he claimed to be under pressure from officials close to then presidential candidate Jose Maria Figueres to block publication of articles linking him to alleged fraudulent mining deals. Arce said he had been fired by the newspaper's directors; they said he had not been dismissed but had resigned. To support their contention, they published a copy of a letter from him dated May 24 in which they said he offered his resignation, and which they added they had merely accepted. Arce denied this version and argued that his letter had no effect since, shortly after he presented it, the executive committee of the newspaper publicly supported his work as editor. He insisted that he had actually been fired for political motives. In its June 15 edition, La Republica said that the chairman and vice chairman of its board had asked the IAPA to investigate the circumstances surrounding the departure of Arce from his job and that the IAPA suspend Eduardo Ulibarri from his post as chairman of the Freedom of the Press committee while the investigation continued. The petition to censure Ulibarri was based on the fact that he had published an article in the daily La Nación, which he edits, in which, among other things, he supported Arce because he considered that he had been fired for political pressure. The IAPA, in a statement issued as a result of this, reiterated its support for Ulibarri and stressed that it is the policy of the Association not to intervene in labor matters. Arce filed a plea against the deciSion of La Republica with the Constitional Court, but it was rejected. He also took the issue to the labor tribunal, where his case is pending. June 16 - The First Criminal Court of San Jose condemned columnist Julio Rodriguez, of La Nación, for libel against the president of Costa Rican Footbal Federation, Isaac Sasso. ROdriguez had criticized the manner in which Sasso had run the organization, above all in managing a trust fund which finances programs to improve sports activities. Although the judge recognized many of the facts reported by Rodriguez, he said that the language used to denounce them was improper. The defense lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court. June 29 - After being off the air for six months, the program "Bosque Adentro" returned to Canal 13, the state-owned television station. The program had not been aired since the director of the channel had blocked the broadcast of a program which included persons opposed to a sanitation project for the metropolitan area backed by the government. Before that, the program's producer Patricia Sanchez presented a relief petition not only against cancelling the program but also against her dismissal from Canal 13. On April 2, the Constitutional Court ordered she be reinstated in her job and that the program return to the air. The text of the ruling was only published on June 9, and 20 days later "Bosque Adentro" reappeared. August 25 - Andres Borrase, president of CAN DINA and editor of La Prensa Libre, entered a motion on behalf of CANDINA to the Constitutional Court requesting that article 80 of the Electoral Code be declared unconstitutional. He based his motion on the serious violations and restrictions in the language, among which are the following: • During the election campaign, publication or broadcasts of paid political advertising are permitted only to parties duly registered with the Supreme Electoral Tribunai (TSE). However, this advertising can only be placed with similarly registered media. • The TSE is given the power to impose censorship by blocking the publication of advertising that it considers inappropriate. • Restrictions are placed on the air time and print space that can be used by political parties for advertising. The Constitutional Court has yet to rule, but during the present campaign, the TSE has interpreted its powers under article 8S of the Electoral Code liberally and has prohibited a large quantity of advertising.