Costa Rica

COSTA RICA A number of legislative and judicial actions affecting the media emerged in Costa Rica in the last six months. The results can be characterized as mixed, because while some of the actions could turn out to be positive, others could be negative. The most far-reaching ruling was made June 25 by the Constitutional Court, also known as Court IV, which declared unconstitutional 12 of the 23 articles of Costa Rica's press law, the principle regulation governing print journalism. The court ruled the Legislative Assembly must now draw up new press legislation to fill the resulting void. The court had been asked to rule by a lower criminal court, which until then had been the only one dealing with so-called press offenses - a fact that it said might be a violation of the Constitution and of the American Convention of Human Rights, which provides for right of appeal. As a result of the constitutional court ruling, press offenses will now be tried in criminal court, whose verdicts will be subject to appeal. One of the annulled press law clauses has provided that in cases of public interest the court can absolve or diminish penalties for the person presumed responsible for the publication, and the clause which establishes extenuating circumstances when the accuser has provoked the offenses, through his own publications. Despite this, the decision of the constitutional court was welcomed by the representatives of the country's major media. On April 30, Court III of the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the confiscation of all editions of a book implicating presidential nominee Jose Maria Figueres in a crime allegedly committed 19 years ago. The decision was made after Figueres accused the authors, brothers Jose and David Romero, of libel and calumny. On May 3, amid great polemic about the measure, which many characterized as prior censorship, Court III ordered the return of the books. However, most bookstores in Costa Rica refused to sell them, and the book was distributed on the streets. On June 22, the constitutional court rejected individual writs of relief against the newspapers La Republica and Extra, which had been sued because of their refusal to publish ads in which a foreign family advertised its wish to adopt a Costa Rican child. The newspapers refused to publish the ad because they considered such ads stimulate traffic in minors. Another newspaper, La Nación, also refuses such ads. The magistrates ruled in favor of the newspapers, saying their refusal averted their participation in criminal behavior. On July- 12, lawyer Juan Diego Castro Fernandez accused journalist Ronald Moya Chacon of "coercion and illegal exercise of the profession." His accusation was based on the fact that Moya, who is studying journalism, is not a member of the Colegio of Journalists of Costa Rica. Castro contended that in declaring he was a journalist without being a member of the colegio, Moya had engaged in an act of deception. He also accused Moya of threatening him after he filed suit. On August 7, the second trial court of San Jose decided on an unusual year's postponement of the case. This indicated that the judge did not find sufficient evidence to begin trial, but neither were there sufficient grounds to order dismissal. On August 30, the fourth criminal judge of San Jose, Gerardo Segura Ruiz, dismissed an accusation of libel, calumny and defamation against the newspaper La Prensa Libre and its editor Andres Borrasi by the Union of Small Farmers of the Atlantic Coast (UPAGRA). On September 3, the third criminal judge of San Jose, Carlos Araya Rivas, absolved Eduardo Ulibarri, the editor of the newspaper La Naci6n, of all guilt in a lawsuit for press libel against Jorge Luis Segnini Sabat and the Academic College Foundation of Costa Rica, for a paid ad which Segnini, as a foundation representative, had placed in the newspaper. Segnini and the foundation, however, were found guilty. Segnini was given a suspended sentence of 120 days imprisonment and ordwered to pay damages of a million colons plus court costs. Simiular damages were awarded against both the foundation and La Nacion, despite of the fact that the editor was acqUitted of all charges. La Nacion is to appeal. On September 25, the constitutional court ruled in favor of the writ of relief which La Nacion had sought November 12, 1990, against the organizing committee of the Costa Rican Cycle Race. The writ had been based on the attempt of the organizers to charge the media for the right to be at the start and finish lines and be in the competition caravan. The court ruled the race was a public event, even though it was organized by a private entity, because it used public streets. It ordered the organizing committee to pay the court costs and damages to the complainant. Between September and October, La Nacion brought separate writs of relief against the Nacional, Anglo Costarricense and Costa Rica banks (all state banks) because they refused to supply a list of the beneficiaries of a law which in part wrote off the debts of thousands of farmers to these banks and to one other bank (the Crectito Agricola de Cartago). The first three banks cited the banking secrecy law. La Nacion contended that since public funds were used for the banks' operations, the information should be public. This was accepted by the relevant government agency, and by the Credito Agricola bank, which then provided the requested information - but the others continue to refuse it. Among bills introduced in the legislature that could affect the media is one that would transfer the sale of insurance now handled by the monolpolistic entity the National Insurance Institute to private entities. It would provide that "all propaganda or information directed to the public regarding insurance, services and operations of the brokerage firms will be subject to the prior approval of the Institute" and establish stiff fines for violators. Another bill would eliminate tax exemptions of a great number of sectors and associations, presented by the executive branch and currently under study by a legislative commission. Those concerned include newspapers and magazines.