Costa Rica

COSTA RICA The courts and the wide range of regulations on the press remain the main obstacles to unrestricted freedom cf the press in Costa Riea. Otherwise, journalists and the media can carry out their work without problems. Two recent court decisions have favored the press: • On April 2, a San José court dismissed a charge of damages and libel that two Costa Rican soccer executives had lodged against Julio Rodriguez, columnist for the newspaper La Nación and the magazine Triunfo, and against the editors of these publications, Eduardo Ulibarri and Manuel Fernández-Cuesta. The complaint was filed beeause of criticism the columnist had made of lsaac Sasso, president of Club Sport Herediano, and Hermes Navarro, president of Club Puntarenas. Judge Gerardo Segura Ruiz rejected the accusation, ruling that Rodríguez's columns were not direeted at the complainants, but at the Costa Rican Soccer Federation and therefore Sasso and Navarro had no legal standing te file the charge. • On July 30, San José Judge Orfa Mora Drummond ruled in favor of a young man who, in a letter to the editor published in La Nación, complained about the service at a restaurant in the capital. The restaurant said it had been libeled because the criticism was made with malice and that, since it dealt with a private establishment, the letter could not be said to be in the public interest. The judge said in her ruling that the letter was not offensive, that the faets were proven, and that restaurants are a public service. Therefore, she ruled, the criticism of the restaurant is covered by the provision of the law that considers the truth as the best defense in cases of insult, libel and defamation. On September 10, the Constitutional Court held a hearing in a suit filed by the newspaper La Prensa Libre challenging the constitutionality of Artide 7 of the 1902 Press Law, which sanctions the crimes of insult and libel by the press. La Prensa Libre's attorney, in filing the case in March, alleged that the Press Law was superseded by the current Penal Code, approved several decades later. At the hearing, the Prosecutor General of the Republic, who acts as the government's legal agent, supported the suit, arguing that it was repealed when the 1949 Constitution went into effect. Prosecutor Odilón Méndez said the penalties established by Artide 7 of the Press Law do not deseribe the conduet that could be considered criminal, a violation of Article 39 of the Constitution, which says no one ean be punished for a crime not sanctioned under previous law, and that the guilt of the accused must be proven. According te La Prensa Libre's lawyer, the Press Law is based on a presumption of guilt and obliges the accused to prove his innocence, rather than requiring the plaintiff to prove guilt. The Constitutional Court has not yet ruled on the case. The law requiring journalists to be licensed in order to work at their profession is still in effect. On September 21, in launching the 23rd annual Press Week, President Rafael Angel Calderón Foumier supported licensing, saying it did not diminish the exercise of freedom cf expression, but strengthened it by encouraging a press committed to ethics and the truth. A suit ehallenging the constitutionality of the licensing law is still unresolved. The case of sports commentator Flavio Vargas, accused by the Joumalists Colegio of illegally working as a journalist, also is still pending. Another charge of working illegally was laid by lawyer Juan Diego Castro against Ronald Moya Chaeón, a journalism student and copy editor at La Nación. The case cannot be decided until the Constitutional Court rules on the constitutionality of the licensing law.