Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
While the government failed to pass much needed reforms to the Press Law, a series of court rulings in favor of the press and convictions in the 2001 killing of a journalist showed progress in a country that is already considered to be among the freest in Latin America. Costa Rica’s constitution guarantees press freedom; however, punitive press laws serve to occasionally restrict the rights of the media. In 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overturned the 1999 conviction of a Costa Rican journalist for criminal defamation, ruling that Costa Rica needed to amend its outdated criminal defamation laws, which are incompatible with international human rights standards. Despite ongoing discussions and a pending proposal to reform the law, libel and insult remain criminal offenses, drawing prison sentences of up to three years for the insult of a public official. In addition, a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 upheld the Ley de Imprenta, the 1902 statute that imposes a prison sentence of up to 120 days for defamation in print media. The proposed amendments would establish the “actual malice” standard but would maintain “crimes against honor” as a criminal offense.
Journalists are not often victims of physical threats or violence in Costa Rica. Challenges to a free media environment tend to stem from the courts, though the majority of the legal decisions in 2007 represented gains for press freedom. In June, a judge overturned an earlier verdict and orderedthe government to pay the newspaper La Nacion US$120,000, the amount that the publication had been forced to pay former diplomat Felix Przedborski for defamation. Two journalists in August were also found not guilty of defamation for corruption allegations made against social security officials in a 2004 report. In April, the Constitutional Chamber issued an important ruling that weighed the public’s right to be informed against the right to privacy. At the center of the case was an interview conducted on hidden camera by the television program Noticias Repretel, which reported on the issue of the illegal entry of foreigners into Costa Rica and the relative ease with which people obtain entry visas. The court ruled in favor of the media in deciding that the right to be informed of this issue of public interest took precedence over the right to privacy. In a blow to press freedom, an appeals court upheld an earlier ruling that acquitted two journalists of defamation but ordered them to pay civil compensation to a police officer whose reputation was harmed by the publication of inaccurate information supplied by a government minister. This case demonstrated the limited options for the defense of journalists in civil cases, in which proof of harm is the only evidence needed to hold them liable.
In a positive development against impunity, two men were found guilty and convicted in December for the 2001 murder of Parmenio Medina, a popular radio journalist. A court sentenced businessman Omar Chaves to 35 years in prison for sanctioning Medina’s murder and an additional 12 years in prison for fraud. Luis Alberto Aguirre Jaime was sentenced to 30 years for carrying out the assassination, while a third accused plotter, Father Minor de Jesus Calvo Aguilar, was acquitted in the criminal case but received a 15-year sentence for fraud. Medina had been a frequent critic of official corruption, including corruption in the local Catholic radio station to which Chaves and Calvo were connected.
Costa Rica has a vibrant media scene, with numerous public and privately owned newspapers, television outlets, and radio stations. Private media ownership is highly concentrated, however, and tends to be conservative. The press is relatively free to cover sensitive political and social issues and openly criticize the government. Radio is the most popular outlet for news dissemination. There are nine major newspapers, and cable television is also widely available. The internet served as an additional source of unrestricted information and was accessed by more than 20 percent of the population in 2007.