San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Media matters

Top investigative editor Giannina Segnini quits La Nación after 20 years

Just months after Costa Rica’s leading daily La Nación fired one of its top investigative reporters, investigative editor and data journalism pioneer Giannina Segnini has resigned over a management dispute just days after the country’s presidential elections. She worked at La Nación for 20 years.

Segnini, 43, a 2001-2002 Harvard Nieman Fellow and winner of the prestigious García Márquez Award for Excellence in Journalism, helped bring the practice of data journalism – which relies on scientific analysis of data she and her team collect from public agencies – to Latin American newsrooms.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, “Under Segnini’s leadership, La Nación’s investigative team has disclosed 10 cases of international corruption, including the Alcatel bribery scandal and a Finnish bribery case that sent two former Costa Rican presidents to jail.”

Those presidents are Rafael Ángel Calderón Fournier (1990-1994) and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998-2002), both from the once powerful, and now-weakened, Social Christian Unity Party.

Rodríguez always has maintained his innocence, and the statute of limitations on the charges expired while the case was under appeal. Calderón’s case still is under appeal.

Segnini also obtained scores of WikiLeaks cables from open-information advocate Julian Assange, which were the source of several La Nación stories.

Her resignation adds to an ongoing controversy at the newspaper over its coverage of the recent presidential and legislative elections, and a decision by directors not to publish an election poll by the firm UNIMER.

In a statement to colleagues, Segnini cited the closing of spaces for independent journalism in recent weeks and years as one of the reasons she decided to leave:

“The spaces to conduct independent journalism – for which I’ve been grateful and of which I’ve taken advantage at La Nación for 20 years – have been consistently shrinking in the past two years, and especially in the past three weeks. A series of editorial decisions by this newspaper that were based on reasons I consider far from journalistic have made it impossible for me to continue working for this company.

“Due to the respect I have for my colleagues in the Investigative Unit, my journalism colleagues, and the many years I worked for La Nación, I will issue no further comments about the circumstances of my departure,” Segnini wrote.

Segnini is featured on the cover of January’s edition of Perfil, a variety magazine published by Grupo Nación. In that interview, Perfil asked Segnini if there are moments when a journalist should negotiate content that could affect business interests. Segnini responded:

“For me there is no such balance. Whatever I discover and can prove is what is published, whomever it may affect.”

Her latest project was a four-month data investigation that scrubbed the judicial records of 340 presidential and legislative candidates. On Jan. 19, Segnini’s team – which includes developers, designers, data experts, geographers and investigative journalists – produced a comprehensive interactive app, “#NoVotoACiegas,” that compiled the results of their investigation.

The app allows voters to check candidates’ backgrounds, and exposed the criminal records of at least nine legislative candidates. Some of the cases involved accusations of rape, embezzlement, fraud and bribery, among others. Two legislative candidates from the Libertarian Movement Party withdrew from the campaign following the reports.

Along with investigative reporter Ernesto Rivera, who was fired by La Nación last year and now works for the University of Costa Rica’s Semanario Universidad, Segnini published in 2005 stories involving former San José mayor and ruling party presidential candidate Johnny Araya and several municipal officials, who the stories linked to illicit payments for a landfill project with a Canadian firm. Araya has denied those allegations.

As a young reporter, Segnini also covered the Banco Anglo scandal, which in 1994 involved one of the country’s oldest banks. As a result of mismanagement by bank directors, Banco Anglo shut its doors after losing $100 million, a debt the government was forced to assume. Top bank officials went to jail, and 20 years later, debtors still owe much of that money.

Segnini often shared bylines with Rivera, who worked at La Nación for 12 years before he was fired last November. Rivera, who has received a special mention from Columbia University’s Maria Moors Cabot Awards, and who won the Inter American Press Society’s top journalism award, El País’ Ortega y Gasset award, and Transparency International’s Latin American Investigative Journalism Award (three times), said he was surprised by his dismissal.

On the same day Rivera was fired, La Nación also fired Carlos Villalobos, who served as the paper’s political editor for a decade.

Rivera’s last investigative series for La Nación, along with Segnini, included 18 tax evasion stories involving President Laura Chinchilla’s former finance minister, Fernando Herrero. Those stories prompted Herrero to resign, along with the director of the Tax Administration and Herrero’s wife, Flor Isabel Rodríguez, a former adviser to Chinchilla.

La Nación Corporate Director Armando González did not comment on Segnini’s resignation, referring questions to Grupo Nación spokeswoman Antonieta Chaverri. The Tico Times attempted to contact Chaverri by email and phone on Wednesday, but was unable to reach her by press time.

Contact David Boddiger at dboddiger@ticotimes.net54

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Eeva Simola

Most worrying a development both in La Nacion, and in CR! Giannina was very helpful to me as a colleague re. the Finnish Instru case!

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Oligarchy at its best, too sad that the stakes are so small in this pitiable, little banana republic.

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MJ Driscoll

Very sad for Costa Rica. La Nación, as the most read newspaper, needs top notch investigative reporters to keep the politicians honest. I have suspected for some time that the directors were primarily PLN people; recent events seem to confirm this suspicion. I just cancelled my subscription.

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Robert Bethea

My only issue with Giannina Segnini, is her association with Julian Assange. He’s a common thief selling stolen property, ie.. American classified documents.
Often times the “source” really does matter.

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Andrey Ramírez

If Assange “stole” information that should have been public, there’s nothing wrong with it.

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This is just one more piece of the puzzle that is frightening about living here in Costa Rica. When the media begins to narrow its coverage of politicians and corruption it opens the door for a government where abuse and denial of human rights as well as getting the truth out there becomes less important. The swing is swinging in the wrong direction in Costa Rica. CR is now losing it rating of being a green country due to corruption, is losing its respect for human rights and is sliding down that slippery slope toward losing its ideals as a democratic government one step at a time. It appears it is just a matter of time before a full blown constitutional change will occur and Costa Rica will join a host of other Latin American countries where freedom of the citizens, along with over pricing of its commodities will drive the money out of the country into the hands of a controlling few, where corruption will be king and freedom for the masses will be a thing of the past.

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More proof of how the elite oligarchy class has ravaged Costa Rica for more than a century and helped themselves to riches at the citizens expense- protecting each other and keeping their crimes a secrect is all part of the game

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This smells like corruption! Professionlas with the caliber and track record of these reporters, who were exposing the TRUTH about the dirty undercurrents in our country, don’t just get fired or resigned. This does not look good for you La Nacion. Very disappointing!

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JOSE ESPINOZA , they didnt get ride of her, she left, which is even worse for Nacion’s image. It is very clear Nacion has an agenda with PLN and supports them.

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A prompt resignation after a wonky election coverage ( or more) decision(s)? Methinks something is rotten in the state of Denmark
It almost makes one wonder if La Nacion scrutiny is in order

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Kate Doyle

La Nación will regret this. Such a terrific reporter! I’ll look forward to seeing where she lands.

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Jose Espinoza

Very Sad that La Nacion got rid of one of the best reporter in Costa Rica. I hope thay had a good reason. Lots of people know her work.

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This lovely lady is the proverbial canary the the coal mine… Not good!

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