Costa Rica

Access to information from government agencies continues to be difficult for the press. On Aug. 2, 2011, during a press conference organized by the Costa Rican Catholic Church in a national day of celebration, President Laura Chinchilla refused to answer a journalist’s question concerning her opinion on a cardinal’s speech. The speech by Mexican Cardinal Francisco Robles highlighted the Church’s view that human life should be respected from the minute of conception. Esteban Mata, journalist from the daily La Nación, asked Laura Chinchilla about the country’s plans for an in vitro bill, currently on hold in the Legislative Assembly. Laura Chinchilla refused to answer, stood up and made an attempt to leave the press conference. She argued that she wasn’t in the conference to cause controversy. Presidency Minister Carlos Ricardo Benavides justified the president’s reaction with the tone that the journalist used for his question. He said that the president had been interrupted on several occasions. A second event took place on Oct.10, when a TV journalist from Channel 7, Andrés Martínez, was pushed by one of the president’s bodyguards when the fully identified journalist, with microphone in hand, tried addressing the president. His query was about a recent poll published in La Nación, where 9 out of 10 Costa Ricans believed that the country lacks clear direction. The Costa Rican Association of Journalists sent an official letter to President Chinchilla on Oct. 11 asking for an explanation of the situation. Communication Minister Roberto Gallardo responded that the unfortunate events did not respond to an order, and that he would take measures to avoid them in the future. The bill before the Legislative Assembly pertaining to transparency and access to information was dismissed, and discussion of the Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom bill has been postponed for several months. President Chinchilla made no effort to bring back the discussion despite helping to draft the bill during her tenure as a legislator. The bill was presented to the Legislative Assembly in 2002. The Costa Rican Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but punitive defamation laws leave journalists exposed to potential criminal charges for defamation or libel. The Costa Rican Congress reviewed in the past year a bill that would expand right of reply in newspapers to include the right to reply to opinion, not just news. In terms of access to public information, the outlook for transparency has not been the subject of major changes, and as usual, requesting information from public offices is still a little easier for journalists than for the rest of citizens.