San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Fight for Press Freedom Saw Important Victory

FIGHTERS for press freedom won aresounding victory this year when theInter-American Court of Human Rightsruled in favor of Mauricio Herrera, areporter for the daily La Nación.Important advances also were made tobring the killers of radio journalistParmenio Medina to justice.Nevertheless, national and internationalwatchdogs criticized the general state ofpress freedom in Costa Rica, and there hasbeen negligible progress in the attempt topass up-to-date press laws.IN its first condemnation of Costa Ricasince the country recognized the court’sdecisions as legally binding in 1980, theHuman Rights Court declared in Augustthat the government violated two articlesof the American Convention on HumanRights when it convicted La Naciónreporter Herrera in 1999 on libel anddefamation of character charges and laterrejected his appeal.“This is not only a personal triumph, buta triumph for the responsible practice ofjournalism,” Herrera told The Tico Times.“The judges are saying that public functionariesare subject to a greater examinationby the citizens of the country… they mustaccept greater criticism than other citizens.”Herrera was convicted for charges stemmingfrom a series of stories he wrote thatwere published in La Nación in 1995 aboutthe questionable practices of then CostaRican diplomat Félix Przedborski. Herrerahad used information he obtained fromEuropean newspapers – supported by hisown interviews – to link Przedborski to illegalarms deals and tax evasion.The ruling of the San José-based court, atribunal of the Organization of AmericanStates (OAS), orders Costa Rican legislatorsto adopt reforms to the country’s press freedomlaws in “a reasonable amount of time.”ALSO in August, for the first time in102 years, a press law reform bill enteredfirst debate on the floor of the LegislativeAssembly. It was sent back to a special commissionfor study, where it remained atyear’s end.Months earlier, the slow pace of changein those laws drew criticism from the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA). Theorganization released a report in March thatblamed the “self-censorship pervasive in thecountry’s newsrooms” on archaic press lawsdating back to 1902.That same month, three reporters fromthe daily Diario Extra were sentenced toprison and charged steep fines when foundguilty of libel and defamation of character.IN May, the court-ordered closure of theoffices of Chavespectáculos, a girlie magazineof provocative swimsuit models, irkedthe Costa Rican Journalism Association andpublication owner Jorge Chaves.Because some consider the line toofine between the magazine’s photos andpornography, Chaves had been ordered tosubmit the magazine to the JusticeMinistry’s Office of Control and Rating ofPublic Spectacles for a screening before itwent to press each month. He refused, thenrefused to pay the fine he incurred, whichincited the closure.“I prefer death, I prefer going to jailrather than send even one photo to them(the ratings office),” Chaves said.Both Chaves and Raúl Silesky, thenpresidentof the Journalists’ Association,decried what they consider governmentcensorship.“Censorship should have no place in ademocracy,” Silesky said.Ombudsman José Manuel Echandi’sannual “State of the People” report,released in June, chastised the government’sunwillingness to share informationwith citizens, saying it has violated thepublic’s right to gain access to information,which weakens citizen participationin the democratic process.“Silence and indifference seem to havebecome the governmental norm,” thereport stated.President Abel Pacheco dismissed thecriticism as ambitious political maneuvering.IN October, Reporters WithoutBorders ranked press freedom in CostaRica as 35th among 167 nations, making itthe second-highest-ranked Latin Americancountry behind El Salvador (28th). Still, itwas a backslide from 2002, when itachieved 15th place among 139 countries.In December, the Prosecutor’s Officeformally accused nine men of charges relatedto the murder of Colombian-born CostaRican radio journalist Parmenio Medina,who was shot to death July 7, 2001.All nine were accused of the highestdegree of murder (homicidio calificado),and Catholic priest Minor Calvo and businessmanOmar Chaves, considered theintellectual authors of the crime, were alsoaccused of fraud, money laundering andillicit association.Also charged was alleged triggermanLuis Alberto Aguirre, a Nicaraguan knownas “El Indio,” who told The Tico Timesearlier this year he had confessed the murderbefore a judge in March.Just before Medina was shot point-blankthree times in the head and torso outside hishome, the journalist had produced a series ofinvestigative reports denouncing financialirregularities in the then-widely popular andnow-defunct Catholic radio station RadioMaria. The station was created and run byCalvo and bankrolled by Chaves.

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