Freedom of the Press
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)
Costa Rica continues to enjoy a vibrant free press backed by strong legal and political institutions. However, an information crimes law promulgated in November 2012 sparked widespread concern by imposing jail terms on any person convicted of publishing “secret political information.” The Supreme Court subsequently suspended the relevant article of the law pending constitutional review.
The constitution guarantees press freedom, and this right is generally upheld. However, punitive press laws, particularly concerning defamation, are occasionally used to restrict the operations of the media. Provisions from the country’s 1902 printing press law that imposed prison sentences for defamation were in effect until the Supreme Court struck them down in 2010. And in December 2011, the Costa Rican courts created an appeals process for overturning criminal libel sentences. However, despite these advances and calls for further reform, journalists remain vulnerable to criminal charges for defamation, with punishments including excessive fines and the placing of one’s name on a national list of convicted criminals. The constitution reserves for readers the right of reply to newspapers in response to information that the readers deem incorrect or egregious. In 2012, the parliament continued to postpone discussion of a bill that would expand the scope of the right of reply from information to opinions. The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has warned that the bill could reduce press freedom and freedom of expression.
Accessing government information continues to be difficult. The Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom Bill, originally introduced in 2002, has been repeatedly postponed, leaving Costa Rica as a regional laggard on implementing comprehensive access to information legislation. President Laura Chinchilla’s administration has failed to prioritize passage of the bill. In July 2012, the Legislative Assembly passed an information crimes bill, known informally as the gag law, which would lengthen jail terms for acts of “political espionage.” Article 288 of the new law calls for jail terms ranging from four to eight years for journalists and other citizens convicted of “improperly obtaining secret political information or information related to public security,” according to the IAPA. Journalists and press freedom organizations denounced the bill’s passage and warned that the law would seriously impede the public’s ability to scrutinize their government. In November, the government announced that the legislation would not apply to journalists, but Reporters Without Borders pressed for the entire article to be scrapped so it could not be used against alternative information providers such as bloggers and other citizen journalists. In late November the Supreme Court temporarily suspended implementation of Article 288 pending a broader examination of the law’s constitutionality.
Although fear of legal reprisals promotes some self-censorship, media outlets are generally free to cover a range of sensitive political and social issues and to openly criticize the government. Some news organizations have developed strong investigative reporting teams. An in-depth investigation of tax evasion by the daily La Nación prompted the resignation of Finance Minister Fernando Herrero in April 2012 after it came to light that he had consistently underreported property values in order to minimize his family’s tax burden. Journalists are rarely victims of physical threats or violence in Costa Rica. In 2012, there were no reports of such attacks.
Costa Rica has a vibrant media scene, with numerous public and privately owned newspapers, television outlets, and radio stations. There are nine major newspapers, and cable television is widely available. Radio is the most popular outlet for news dissemination. Private media ownership is highly concentrated, however, and tends to be politically conservative. The internet served as an additional source of unrestricted information and was accessed by more than 48 percent of the population in 2012.