U.S. Report Criticizes Press Freedom Here

March 4, 2005

FREEDOM of the press in Costa Ricabore the brunt of criticism from the U.S.State Department in the department’s annualHuman Rights Report released Monday,but this country fared better overall than theusual Latin American suspects, Cuba,Venezuela, the Dominican Republic andHaiti.On Costa Rica, the report states, “Thegovernment generally respected the humanrights of its citizens; however, there wereproblems in a few areas.” One is press freedom,the reports states, “with some journalistspracticing self-censorship to avoidaccusations of libel, defamation and theassociated criminal penalties involved ifconvicted of such crimes.”THE report highlighted last year’s rulingby the Inter-American Court of HumanRights in favor of journalist MauricioHerrera, a reporter for the daily La Nación,convicted in 1999 for libel and defamationof character. The ruling declared the governmentin violation of two articles of theInter-American Convention on HumanRights, and ordered it to make amends andreform its press laws “within a reasonableamount of time” (TT, Aug. 6, 2004). Noreforms have been made.Herrera had been convicted in a criminalcourt, given the choice of jail time or astiff fine, and had to register himself as acriminal. La Nación was fined about$200,000 (TT, Nov. 19, 1999).The U.S. report cites an August 2004survey by La Nación that says 62% of journalistswho responded said they have omittedinformation for fear of legal action, and99% said they believe the nation’s current,102-year-old press laws are in dire need ofreform.THE report also mentions the threejournalists who were convicted in criminalcourts last year, all from the Diario Extra,(TT Daily Page, Oct. 27, 2004). One wasgiven a 30-day sentence and a fine for “tarnishingthe image” of a school official,another was sentenced to 10 days and finedfor publishing an altered photo of televisionmodels, and a third was sentenced to 50days and fined after publishing a story thataccused a government official of misusingpublic funds.Headway was made into the investigationof the murder of journalist ParmenioMedina last year when nine men were formallycharged with crimes related to themurder (TT, Dec. 10, 2004). “At year’s end,police continued to investigate the case…and individuals charged during 2003remained in detention pending trial,” thereport states, which hedges on another contentionit has with Costa Rica: the courtsystem is lagging on too many cases.Also mentioned is the case of the gossipand semi-nude photo magazine Chavespectáculos,which was shut down by theJustice Ministry’s Office of Control andRating of Public Displays for failing to payfines incurred for the owner’s refusal to submitthe magazine each month to the officefor approval prior to printing. The officeargued it was pornographic and should beaccordingly packaged (TT, May 28, 2004).The publisher disagrees.MEANWHILE, Costa Rica ranks 35thof the 167 nations included in ReportersWithout Borders’ (RSF) 2004 press-freedomindex, released in October 2004, making itthe second-highest-ranked Latin Americancountry behind El Salvador (28th).The United States ranked in 22nd placeon the index with “violations of the privacyof sources, persistent problems in grantingpress visas and the arrest of several journalistsduring anti-(President George W.) Bushdemonstrations,” according to the report(TT Daily Page, Oct. 27, 2004).Other problem areas in Costa Rica’shuman rights record, the U.S. StateDepartment report states, are domestic violence,which is a “serious problem,” and“traditional patterns of unequal opportunityfor women.” It also mentions childabuse, child prostitution, child labor andhuman trafficking, in spite of efforts toalleviate those problems.Abuses by police and prison guardswere also reported, and penitentiary overcrowdingremains a problem, the reportstates.ON Tuesday, in response to pressquestions about the report’s criticisms,President Abel Pacheco asked, “Why dopeople always look for the black dot onthe white wall?”He pointed out the report also praisesCosta Rica for its anti-corruption efforts.He added it is “unfair” that the reportcriticizes Costa Rica for overcrowded prisons,saying huge improvements have beenmade by the Justice Ministry.

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