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 free press backed by strong legal and political institutions. In 2014, the Supreme Court bolstered media freedom by ruling against law enforcement agencies that had monitored a journalist’s telephone calls as part of a leak investigation.
The constitution guarantees press freedom, and this right is generally upheld. However, punitive press laws, particularly concerning defamation, have occasionally been 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. In December 2011, the Costa Rican courts created an appeals process for overturning criminal libel sentences. There were no active defamation cases against journalists in 2014, with the last one resolved in 2012, when an accused journalist agreed to publish a correction to the offending article. However, despite these advances and calls for further reform, journalists remain vulnerable to criminal charges for defamation, which can result in 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 a positive ruling for media freedom, the constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court found in March 2014 that law enforcement agencies’ secret monitoring of a journalist’s telephone calls was unconstitutional. In January, the San Jose–based Diario Extra newspaper had accused the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) and the office of the public prosecutor of recording its reporter’s public and private calls during most of 2013. The agencies subsequently admitted to conducting the surveillance as part of an investigation into a suspected whistle-blower within government. Despite the government’s claim that it was targeting a state official and not the reporter with whom he communicated, the Supreme Court instructed the OIJ to destroy the records related to the monitoring and never repeat such tactics.
Existing laws have established procedures for obtaining public information, with which the government generally complies. However, Costa Rica has no comprehensive framework for access to information, and a lack of enforcement mechanisms under current law undermines the efficacy of the process. The Freedom of Expression and Press Freedom Bill, originally introduced in 2002, would provide a stronger legal foundation for freedom of information, but it has been repeatedly postponed. The election of President Luis Guillermo Solís in April 2014 did little to advance the bill beyond the steps already taken by previous administrations.
In August 2014, the Legislative Assembly’s Social Affairs Committee approved a bill intended to enhance press freedom by prohibiting managers and editors of media outlets from obstructing the investigative work of their journalists, pressuring them to adhere to a particular editorial line, or manipulating their writing through dishonest editing. Although seemingly benign, the bill was criticized by press freedom advocates for subverting the overall independence of the press, interfering with management and the editing process, and prohibiting ordinary decisions that may be necessary for space, quality, or other legitimate reasons. The full assembly had yet to pass the bill at year’s end.
While fear of legal reprisals encourages some self-censorship, media outlets are generally free to cover a range of sensitive political and social issues and to openly criticize the government.
Journalists rarely face physical threats or violence in Costa Rica, and there were no reports of such attacks in 2014.
Costa Rica has a vibrant media sector, with numerous public and privately owned newspapers, television outlets, and radio stations. Private media ownership is highly concentrated, however, and tends to be politically conservative. There are nine major newspapers, and cable television is widely available. Radio is the most popular medium for news dissemination. The internet serves as an additional source of unrestricted information and was accessed by 49 percent of the population in 2014. Access to high-speed internet service remains surprisingly low compared with other countries in the region, but the situation is improving.