San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Arias Throws Support Behind Press-Freedom Law

As advocates of press freedom continue to lobby for changes to the country s outdated press law, languishing below other priorities on a packed legislative agenda, President Oscar Arias this week urged lawmakers to prioritize these reforms.

As a Costa Rican who loves liberty, I hope that the Freedom of the Press and Expression Bill will be considered as a priority by the Legislative Assembly, Arias said Wednesday at the inauguration of a two-day hemispheric conference of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) in San José.

These comments are Arias first call for action on the bill. Eduardo Ulibarri, former editor of the daily La Nación and president of the Institute for Freedom of Press, Expression and Public Information (IPLEX), met with other press-freedom activists and Arias to discuss the bill Aug. 9.

On that occasion, Ulibarri told The Tico Times the President and his legislative liaison, brother Rodrigo Arias, seemed unexpressive about the bill and said the assembly had too many other bills on its plate.

Ulibarri and other supporters, including legislator José Manuel Echandi, maintain there s a simple solution to that problem.

Both say the bill should be sent to one of the assembly s comisiones plenas, three subassemblies of 19 legislators apiece with the power to vote a wide range of bills into law.

Echandi, the only legislator from the National Union Party (PUN), says the commission on which he serves hasn t handled a single bill in six months (TT, Nov. 3).

Ulibarri is scheduled to meet with the editors of Costa Rican media organizations today to discuss the bill s prospects.

The proposed legislation would eliminate jail sentences for journalists convicted of defamation and libel, among other reforms to the current law, which has been on the books for 104 years. Although the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in 2004 that the law violates international treaties and must be changed, the previous assembly (2002-2006) did not take action.

In the new assembly, which took office in May, the bill is in 40th place on the agenda. At an assembly in Mexico City in October, IAPA members voiced concern about courts in Costa Rica,Venezuela and Uruguay (that) issued rulings that curtailed press freedom, referring to a May decision to the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) upholding the press law.

A statement from the association said Colombia, Cuba,Mexico and Venezuela have the most hostile environments for journalists, but other countries have seen an alarming increase during the past six months in the harassment of journalists.


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