Casa Presidencial wrapped up a two-day goodwill offensive Wednesday in its attempt to reestablish credibility with the country’s free speech advocates after several clashes with local media — most notably, last month’s disastrous rollout of a proposed media reform bill.
Tuesday, the Solís administration presented a new media reform bill to the Legislative Assembly, and on Wednesday President Luis Guillermo Solís met with Inter American Press Association President Gustavo Mohme and other press freedom observers at Casa Presidencial.
After meeting with Mohme and other IAPA members, Solís signed the Declaration of Chapultepec, a commitment that “No law or act of government may limit freedom of expression or of the press, whatever the medium,” among other protections for journalists in the Americas.
After the private meeting, Mohme told reporters that Costa Rica had much to show the rest of Latin America in terms of freedom of expression. Mohme said that Solís had demonstrated his commitment to the values of a free and active press.
“[Solís] respects freedom of expression. He’s questioned certain news pieces that he considers sensationalist but he respects free expression,” Mohme said.
The Solís administration’s modified media reform bill would cut several controversial provisions enshrined in the current law, which dates to 1954. These include prohibitions on publishing “lies” and “false alarms,” and using “vulgar language.”
In April, a draft version of Costa Rica’s Radio Law reform bill was released to the public with provisions that opponents alleged would muzzle the news media. Among the provisions were articles that could lead a television station to lose its broadcast license for airing “lies” or language that offended “common decency.”
The government quickly withdrew the draft bill and ordered then-Minster of Science and Technology Gisella Kopper and Vice Minister of Telecommunications Allan Ruiz to resign.
Solís’ newly-appointed communications minister, Mauricio Herrera, noted that many of the onerous provisions in the controversial bill were, in fact, already on the books.
IAPA President Mohme may have given the government the benefit of the doubt in terms of the now-defunct media reform bill, but Claudio Paolillo, president of the IAPA Freedom of Press and Information Commission, didn’t pull any punches in a later event Wednesday to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. The event was hosted by the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights.
“I take the president’s word that he’s committed to press freedom,” Paolillo said, “but obviously someone in the Costa Rica government thought that these were good ideas. After all, they wrote them down,” he said, referring to last month’s media bill.
The IAPA delegation also stressed that freedom of expression is not something that can be taken for granted, even in a country with a reputation as strong as Costa Rica’s.
“Freedom of expression is not an end in itself but an effort that is fought for every day,” Mohme said.