Costa Rica

Report to the Midyear Meeting 2019
Mach 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia
Freedom of the press and of expression continue to be the object of insults on the part of the political and economic power.

The majority of news media have been affected in the last six months with resolutions and sentences that violate professional practice and the state of law.

The first of the cases occurred on December 22 when the Propaganda Control Office, a dependency of the Governance and Police Ministry, notified the Diario Extra newspaper of an administrative decision that censored the front page content that contained the image of a woman in a bathing suit, taken from its Instagram social media, as a means of illustrating who had been the victim of the murder of a woman.That office said that Diario Extra should refrain from publishing that kind of images, especially of women
covered in blood. It warned that the media outlet should not have used photos or other images coming from social media, despite the public character.

The resolution warned that the front page had a publicity purpose and suggested that it could be the subject of prior review to avoid contents that were not of its liking.

The Inter American Press Association sent a letter to the Propaganda Control Office criticizing the interference of the government in the criteria and contents of the media, asking this body to withdraw the notification of censorship.

The Journalists Association said that it was dangerous that any body could seek to censor in a prior form front pages or news publications.

In December Canal 7, a Costa Rican television channel, fired a comedian who was taking part in a program after he told a joke characterized as sexist.

The action was taken after Justice Minister Marcía González used social media to say that what happened would be investigated and that the program did not comply with the guide of values that her department and the government promoted.

In January the Office of Protection of Residents' Details (Prodhab) of the Ministry of Justice told Diario Extra to remove from its archives a news item disseminated on July 13, 2018. The information was about the arbitrary detention of a Costa Rican by the Nicaraguan authorities in Costa Rican territory. The news item was confirmed at the time by the appropriate Foreign Office. Prodhab decided that the newspaper should get rid of the photograph of the affected person, despite the fact that the image used was a passport one. It said that the Law on Protection of Details gives legal authority to citizens to ask media to remove from their archives images and other details that identify them in news items. It declared that the media outlet cannot publish images not agreed to by persons, including that the media outlet has the duty to eliminate images previously agreed to with the simple petition of the interested person.

That dependency is making use of Law 8968 of sensitive data as a mechanism of punishment, despite the fact that it was not designed to regulate the activity of the press. Diario Extra submitted an appeal on the grounds of unconstitutionality to the Constitutional Court.

Another serious insult took place in February when the Constitutional Court ruled against Grupo Nación group, publisher of the newspapers La Teja and La Nación, requiring it to get rid of a video that was on its website. The integral constitutional ruling is still being drafted. The information issued was related to a female public figure extensively exposed in news media, as she herself posts on her social media details such as photos and messages that are of public access, but then pled before the court that this harms her privacy.

Several judges resolved that effectively the media outlet incurred in an illegitimate action by publishing the video of the model and they left out the public interest generated by matters of showbiz, sports and entertainment.

The judges applied in this case the right to oblivion, which harms the right to information.

On March 19 Costa Rica's Canal 6 television channel Repetel, was sanctioned for some programs that were broadcast in December on tongue-in-cheek situations that happened in the country, at a cost of 70 million colons, some $115,702, for imitating a woman who had problems with the TIGO company, claiming they imitated her with her voice and with her way of being and that she was not a woman with a public image.

Congressman Erwin Masis of the Social Christian Unity Party (PUSC) submitted a bill that seeks to combat cyber crime and is focused on punishing with imprisonment the publication of false news. The law would contemplate a sentence of imprisonment of up to four years of anyone who disseminates news categorized as false. The initiative raised concern because it could be used to prosecute journalists by political and economic groups in disagreement with denunciations and criticisms.

The bill also seeks to punish those who disseminate, publish or gather information characterized as private without the authorization of the one concerned, even if this be disseminated on social media. It also proposes punishment of six months to one year imprisonment of he or she who gathers images and disseminates data of whereabouts in real time of a person. It also would punish with imprisonment those who spread oral communications, record verbal protests or hear private statements that are not addressed to them.

There already exist legal standards approved since 2012 that punish informational offenses, for which reason this bill is reiterative and can limit the work of the press.

Also of concern to news media companies is the bill for a Law on Expiry of Control, recorded in document 20868, that seeks the confiscation of possessions without criminal conviction.

The bill does not clearly define to what offenses is applied the expiry of control and there is a latent danger that this law becomes an instrument for the government to pursue news media that disseminate news items that are not to their liking.