Costa Rica

IAPA Midyear Meeting 2016
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
April 8-11

Recently there has been a series of affronts to the practice of journalism and the people's right to be informed on the part of government officials and to a certain degree organized crime.

The government, several times criticized for holding back information and required by the Supreme Court's Constitutional Court to hand it over, is concerned at guaranteeing the right of access when it would be enough to ask its officials to comply with current law.

Arising from that abrupt "concern" is a draft legislative bill that the administration is thinking of sending to the Legislative Assembly. The bill is a Trojan horse, dressed up with the supposed intent of adopting international parameters.

The bill creates procedures, rules and to date non-existent exceptions, such as the "economic policies of the government before their release" and the "prevention, investigation and prosecution of crimes." It also lacks significant sanctions for the case of non-compliance and opens doors to capricious interpretations on the publishing of certain information.

Nevertheless, the most serious danger is the risk of rejection of the appeals in the Constitutional Court because a specific law being passed the demands for access to information could be considered matters of legality not of constitutionality and would pass to the administrative contentious jurisdiction, impossible to navigate without the advice of a lawyer, complete with formalities and accustomed to taking years to resolve cases.

Currently when an official refuses to hand over information one has recourse to the Constitutional Court and wins. If the official does not comply with the order to provide the data he or she could face a criminal trial for disobedience, punishable by up to three years in prison. That is why information is handed over unfailingly.

La Nación has just had that experience. Previous rulings of the Court declared to be of interest the salaries of all government officials. The newspaper had asked the Costa Rican Social Security Registry for its payroll. The institution denied to give it and then sought to charge for it. La Nación complained of the case and the Attorney General's Office announced the start of an investigation for disobedience. The information was immediately provided, free of charge.

Added to this bill is the use of official advertising, which is granted on innumerable occasions to broadcasters, nearly 100, that operate illegally and favor the government discourse, discriminating against critical media.

A bill for a General Culture Law, before a Congressional committee, suggests government intervention in the content of electronic media, principally television channels, requiring them to place on their schedules for defined lengths of time cultural and folkloric matters.

Senior officials of the Legislative and Executive Branches warned two news companies to restrain reports on organized crime and drug trafficking bosses operating in the country, claiming that journalists' physical safety was in danger. Despite this no protective measures were offered to journalists and media.

Threats were made to several journalists by some groups linked to drug trafficking and money laundering.

It cannot be ignored that the Presidency and other government departments are preventing several media, such as El, CrHoy, Diario Extra and La Nación from making questions during press conferences.

On the contrary, members of the press find themselves exposed to calls to attention by the very President Luis Guillermo Solís and members of the cabinet, and being taken off the lists of e-mails and official travel.

Some media receive suggestions from government officials to change reporters, as they disagree with the coverage they make.

In the law courts there is already a ruling against a couple of media outlets to eliminate Web publications on particular matters, considering thus the right to oblivion.

A group of members of the national Congress sent a letter to the Presidency requesting the withdrawal of broadcast frequencies from some companies that in their view concentrate them, despite they being correct under federal law, such action being amid a debate to amend the national radio and TV law.