San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Media matters

President Solís laments media criticism; analysts say it's nothing new

Tense relations between the press and the president are as common as rice and beans in Latin America. It’s a measure — with flaws — of a functioning democracy.

It’s just as common for a president to rail against the press when the headlines aren’t rosy enough for his or her taste. This administration’s battle began last Sunday when President Luis Guillermo Solís wrote on op-ed lambasting Costa Rican national media for what he perceived as unethical and irresponsible reporting on his government and its policies. Solís continued his charge on Tuesday during his weekly press conference.

“Information becomes a weapon — and I’m using that term deliberately — a weapon that can do great damage to a democracy like this one that defends freedom of expression,” Solís told reporters gathered at Casa Presidencial.

“This is not about deflecting responsibilities from the government,” Solís said, “It’s about debating the role of the media in a democracy that does not tell the full truth, perverts it, or even reports something false.”

The comments came on top of Solís’ bitter op-ed printed Sunday in the daily La Nación. In it, the president complained about daily harassment from the press “in which the use of alarmist or openly false headlines, of highlighted bad news and very well concealed good news has become the rule.”

He also wrote: “If an alien came to San José and read some media outlets these days, it would think Costa Rica is on the edge of an economic and social catastrophe.”

La Nación defended its coverage in a long and detailed editorial on Tuesday. It diligently noted all the days it had published stories about much of what Solís considers the good news of his administration, like the pending construction of the new Moín terminal (groundbreaking is scheduled for this weekend), the recently-approved Alajuela-San Ramón highway project and the Route 32 expansion.

In the case of La Nación’s Route 32 coverage, the paper noted that it would have been impossible to ignore the doubts expressed by Solís’ own party starting when the deal was first negotiated by the former administration of President Laura Chinchilla (2000-2014). The paper noted that Solís’ own Public Works and Transport Minister, Carlos Segnini, repeated those doubts before the Legislative Assembly.

“The sudden change of heart is, at the least, noteworthy,” the editorial stated.

Observers told The Tico Times that the president’s attempt to call out his critics might well end up further complicating his relationship with the media.

Political analyst Constantino Urcuyo said the president’s jeremiad might have been cathartic but it had no apparent political value besides starting a fight with the media. Urcuyo said that presidents forget how much they need the media to push their agenda and how fickle the press can be with its praise.

“I would tell Solís to pray the media does what he wants 5 percent of the time; I’d be happy with that,” Urcuyo said.

Marlon Mora, president of the Costa Rican Journalists’ Association, was similarly unsympathetic to Solís’ tongue-lashing.

“[President Solís] needs to talk about public policy as president, not start fights with the media,” Mora said.

He said taking a confrontational stance with the press did little to push Solís’ agenda or to get out the message that he alleges the media has been ignoring.

Mora noted that blaming the press was a time-tested strategy for politicians when they find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. Solís, who was elected with more than 77 percent of registered voters — the highest margin of any president in the country’s history — has seen his popularity plunge since taking office. 

“If [authorities] are looking for a press who are an echo chamber, they’re not going to get it,” said Alejandro Delgado, president of the Free Expression and Press Institute (IPLEX).

“If there were false news stories or lies, the judicial system has avenues to explore them, but at this time there has not been one case or accusation that contradicts what the press has reported,” Delgado said, referring to the right to reply, a protection allowed to all Costa Ricans who believe they have been misrepresented or slandered.

The IPLEX president said that elected officials need to remember that their office requires them to defend their policies to the public — including the media — and that good press follows bad.

Gina Sibaja, a political scientist at the University of Costa Rica who studies media and politics, said that President Solís’ critiques of the media were less a failing of ethics than of form. Sibaja noted that media companies have a social responsibility but they are also businesses.

The drive for some media organizations to seek out spectacle in their coverage instead of deep reporting is a strategy that lends itself to misrepresentation and distraction from the real story in favor of flashy headlines. This kind of confusion in reporting is compounded, she said, in mediums that use short bursts to tell a story, like television or social media.

Sibaja said that the Solís administration was struggling to find its balance point with the media after the presidential campaign enjoyed sympathetic treatment from the media. Now that Solís is in office, she said, the media views him and his administration more critically as it develops public opinion about his policies and their impacts on Costa Rica.

“It’s just part of politics,” she said.

Contact Zach Dyer at zdyer@ticotimes.net

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sterling

John,

What you are trying to sell is better known as “Tico Caviar,”  call it what ever you like, the only difference is the type of bowl you and I put it in.

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John

President Solis has not done a great job in his first year, but he has not done badly either. And remember, his party does not control the national assembly.
We must also remember that La Nacion, and the Costa Rican press in general, are center-right in ideology, while Solis’s party is center or center-left. That is the underlying basis for much of the press criticism.
A right or center-right government always gets more favorable treatment from the corporate press. That is just an (unfortunate) fact.
Economies always have their ups and downs, and Costa Rica’s is no exception.
Unemployment has increased, but is hardly soaring.
Costa Rica is more expensive than other Central American countries partly because it offers more in the way of a comfortable lifestyle, and its workers are better paid. This is a good thing.
But inflation has been single digit now for several years, and statistics show it is relatively low despite the howls of gringos claiming otherwise.
The Caja has its problems, but its Ebais clinics offering preventive care are excellent. Yes, waits for surgeries are a problem. Emergency surgeries are done efficiently, however, and the medical system as a whole is still the best in Central America.
Crime is not really getting much worse, based on population, except for a few cherry-picked categories.
The kidnapping of Ryan Piercy was not a reflection of a general rise in kidnapping, as is the case in some other countries.
Reading between the lines, it looks like Ryan Piercy was targeted for various reasons, not just because he has money.
Companies are not “running” from Costa Rica, although some are leaving. And some are coming.
No Costa Ricans I know are talking about overthrowing the Costa Rican government in any type of Cuban revolution. That claim is nonsense.
Some ex-presidents have been put on trial, and convicted. They have no end of appeals, as is the case in most countries where rich and powerful are charged. Like the really rich and powerful in most countries, they will likely end up with a relatively light slap on the wrist.

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Steve

Last year alone almost a quarter of a million people lost their jobs.That is around 5% of the population. Costa Rica also does not pay well. Unless you work here and live in Nicaragua. When compared to cost of living how can you say that wages are good here. 320$ a month for a homeworker 1200 for a professional. A gallon of gas is round 4.26$? Tell me how that works? Judging by the way you cast everything aside means you must have a substantial salary and thus none of this really effects you. Tell me what companies are coming here? Bank of America..Gone Intel…Gone Jacks… Going. With many others on the brink of leaving for greener pastures. The country is more worried about being carbon neutral than ridding arsenic from public drinking water. There needs to be new tax laws put in place to rid the country of the insane import taxes. You have to be rich just to drive an average car here and that is ridiculous. I believe you commented on another one of my posts in this same manner. Either you are too rich to see or care about Costa Ricans or your just a useless politician just like they all are these days. The United States has lost it’s identity and I fear Costa Rica is not far behind. The days of having people working for their people have long since died out. The people who want to do it are pushed out by the wealthy. You always say gringos always state otherwise or Gringos spin this or that. Are you that sure that we aren’t Tico? It sounds to me like your the gringo who likes the status Quo and likes being able to have cheap labor and exploit the people.

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Ben

By the way JOHN many CR are talking of a Cuban Type Revolution and they meet lots in many diffrent places. Your so clueless John.

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Ben

The facts are CR is in very bad shape and people that think other wise are very blind. I know to many people begging to work. I do business in CR and see all the problem everyday. Caja is a real mess one of my staff need surgery and would have to wait 3 years so got her into private hospital in 2 hrs and she had the surgery for less than 1500 dollars and yes i paid it. Lots of people are blind to all the problem in CR and use spin and lies they use words like compared to IRAQ and Central America Costa Rica is wonderful. The problem with not seeing problems in CR is saying you don´t see anything going on in the world. Most US citizen s think Costa Rican are happy and the CR goverment would make you think that but the facts are Costa Rican see the waste of money in goverment and stealing by goverment official and now are starting to say enough is enough. US citizens that set on beaches and resorts are very clueless to the problems of CR.

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Ben

Clearly President Solis does not get what is happening in Costa Rica. So hear are the facts on Costa Rica goverment. Right now in Costa Rica the unemployment is 10% and growing fast. Taxes in CR have gone up big time. Food in Costa Rica is more expensive. Costa Rica is more expensive than all countries in Latin America. Young People are begging to get jobs at job fairs that seem not produce really not many jobs. Gas prices in Costa Rica are more expensive than all of Latin America. Roads in CR are a mess and never get fixed. The Caja Health system is a mess and using the system takes forever and wait times can be 5 years to get an operation. The Costa Rican goverment does not talk to small business at all so they feel neglected and now are running from CR. Crime in CR is getting worse like Kidnapping of Canadian Ryan Piercy and a spanish business man. The facts on CR is the people will not stand up against the goverment until you see 15 to 20% unempolyment. Lots of CR are now talking about overthrowing the corupt goverment and many CR say its time to put EX presidents on trial for stealing and lazy goverment. The Media is starting to do a good job saying that the goverment of CR is a mess and the people of CR are now saying enough with goverment and start talking about a new system of goverment in Costa Rica. I hear from some Costa Ricans talking about a Cuban style Revolution and maybe its time to kick the US system of Corp out of CR and put the corupt goverment on trial and past goverments on trial for the crimes they have done to the CR people.

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