Costa Rica

COSTA RICA The so-called right of reply, introduced into Costa Rican legislation in the Law of Constitutional Jurisdiction, was tested in court for the first time in September and October. The results gave cause for concern The law, enacted October 11, 1989, created a new court in the Costa Rican judicial apparatus: the Constitutional Court, with the power to hear writs of appeal against juridical persons, including media that refuse to grant right of reply. Under this law, any person who feels affected by inaccurate or insulting information about himself in the media can exercise a right of reply. The correction must be published or broadcast in the same way as the allegedly offending item. Based on this law, lawyer Luis Alberto Ocampo Fallas presented writs of appeal against the newspapers La Republica and La Nad6n, claiming they had both denied free publication of a reply to a paid advertisement in which he was mentioned. The advertisement, paid for by local citizen Werner Ossenback Sauter, quoted from documents said to be from the Lawyers Colegio of Costa Rica and the national General Accounting Office, in which Ocampo was criticized. La Nadon had carried a news story about the issue prior to publication of the advertisement. Ocampo was said to have been involved in the granting of a license to a company seeking to do business with the National Apprentice Institute, while working in its supply department and at the same time acting as the company's lawyer. La Nadon quoted Ocampo himself in its story. The court ruled in favor of Ocampo in its suit against La Republica, on the grounds that La Republica had not responded to the writ. It had - but the documents were mislaid in the court offices. The ruling means that advertisements as well as news stories and editorials are held to fall under the right of reply. The suit against La Nadon was dismissed because the newspaper had previously published Ocampo's point of view, but the constitutional court held that the right of reply covers the area of paid advertisements. Thus, a serious gap in press freedom has been opened in Costa Rican law. Other important matters pertaining to the media included: • President Rafael Angel Calderon defended the existence of the Journalists Colegio during the inauguration of Press Week September 24. • The Legal Affairs Committee of the Legislative Assembly continues debate on a bill to reform the publishing law. The aim is is to modernize the law and make it less restrictive.