A group of press-freedom advocates seeking to change Costa Rica’s press law met with President Oscar Arias last week in an attempt to drum up support for their cause.
Eduardo Ulibarri, former editor of the daily La Nación and president of the Institute for Freedom of Press, Expression and Public Information (IPLEX), along with Vice-President Gerardo Bolaños, Secretary Raúl Silesky and Treasurer Yanancy Noguera, visited Casa Presidencial Aug. 9. They met with both President Arias and his brother and spokesman Rodrigo Arias, Ulibarri told The Tico Times.
According to Ulibarri, the group’s goals were twofold: to ensure Executive Branch support for the proposed Freedom of the Press and Expression Law, and to try to convince the President to prioritize the bill during the ongoing extraordinary session of the Legislative Assembly, when the Executive Branch sets the agenda.
“It’s lower than 30th place on the agenda,” he said. “It could take months or years” to pass.
The response? Vaguely positive on the first count, negative on the second. Rodrigo Arias explained the assembly has too much on its plate already to consider the press freedom bill as well – it’s working on tax reforms, the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA) and other controversial legislation – but Ulibarri said the journalists left the meeting assured of the Executive Branch’s support.
“Both (Oscar) and don Rodrigo were pretty unexpressive,” Ulibarri said of their response. “But they’re going to analyze it…There was no specific, concrete promise, but we saw willingness.”
He said the institute will now focus its attention on the assembly, rallying around National Union Party (PUN) legislator José Manuel Echandi’s proposal to transfer the bill from 43rd place on the agenda to first place in the Third Plenary Commission –which, according to La Nación, has nothing else on its agenda and could begin discussing the law quickly.
The current law, which has been on the books for 104 years, establishes prison sentences for defamation and libel. The
ruled in 2004 that the government must change the law, but that has not yet happened.
The bill now in the assembly would eliminate jail sentences for defamation and libel and replace them with fines (TT, July 14).