Costa Rica, ‘fake news’ and the Trump effect: We are unprepared

January 28, 2018
3 Comments

Lea esta columna en español aquí.

The electoral campaign has gathered speed too quickly in Costa Rica. There’s still a year to go and we are already seeing organized presidential debates and discussions in the media about issues that, by the way, already monopolized part of the 2014 campaign. My impression is that both the parties and the media are getting ahead of themselves, but there’s something inevitable about ignoring these early movements

This campaign has surprised the country’s journalists, who are not yet sure how we are going to face, in our context, the elements we have been watching the United States suffer because of the Trump phenomenon. I refer to lies disguised as facts, systemic harassment of the media, and brazen statements that, until recently, would have been reason for political censure.

I also refer to barely veiled alliances with media organizations prepared to play the role of a megaphone, publishing whims that traditional media then replicate because – unfortunately – it increases their readings. I refer to disguised social media profiles that attack political rivals with claims that no one with any sense would dare to put forward with his or her real name and face attached.

Recommended: Make Costa Rica great again?

The problem is that various Costa Rican politicians, and maybe those of other countries as well, have seen that this formula works. It’s been tested and proved, even in a U.S. political system with strong institutions, powerful parties and media organizations that we thought were superpowers. We can see the results: the impact of a Twitter account in the unrestrained hands of an unscrupulous politician, and the triumph of a strident media organization that seemed so insignificant – Breitbart.

I have been saying that this could not happen in Costa Rica, but the facts – real facts, not alternative facts – have left me looking foolish. We have seen presidential precandidates trying to capitalize on xenophobia, as if anti-immigrant sentiment in Costa Rica is strong enough to turn an entire election.

See also: Costa Rican legislator praises Trump’s tactics as he eyes another presidential bid

The director of the State of the Nation program, Jorge Vargas Cullell, says that Costa Rica does not provide any fertile ground for a crazy candidate. There are apt issues for microphone populists, but there is not a climate of sufficient polarization on issues of insecurity, xenophobia or economic exclusion.

His explanation calmed me down – about halfway. But with every day that passes, I see elements being “imported” from the recent U.S. campaign.

We journalists need to think very carefully about how we are going to face these dilemmas as the political campaign matures. In our newsroom over at Semanario Universidad, we’ve been discussing this. The truth is we aren’t sure whether the answer is to put Trump imitators in Costa Rica on display; ignore them; contradict them with rigorous information; or attack them directly before they take power. Nothing guarantees their success. We don’t know the answer, and we don’t know whether we’ll find it.

I hope other colleagues are thinking about this, too, but I am afraid we are not a majority.

Read more of Alvaro Murillo’s “No Sugar, Please” columns here.

Álvaro Murillo is an experienced journalist who specializes in political coverage and has written for La Nación, Semanario Universidad and El País. In “No Sugar, Please,” his twice-monthly column, he explores politics in its broadest terms, from the halls of government to community life. Connect with him on Twitter.

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3 Responses

  1. But all is not lost. We can trust The Donald and his minions to always give us the “Real” truth. When pigs fly.

  2. I don’t agree with the criticisms of the mainstream media in the US. Sure, they’re biased, and always have been, but in the better outlets the biases mainly involve the selection of the stories to cover, not the factual reporting. In weaker outlets, mainly it seems TV, there’s a fairly obvious quest for ratings, and the stories covered betray that, but even then the stories are usually covered fairly.

    Where my reservations about this article are raised is in the assumption that the news media in Costa Rica strive to be unbiased. I’m sure many journalists do, but it’s fairly obvious that both channel 7 and La Nación are in bed with the PLN. I can’t say about other outlets, but these are two big ones of dubious journalistic integrity.

    Then we have CR Hoy, which may not be biased but is so poorly operated that it might as well be.

    The English-language news media is even more suspect. One I know simply sells favorable coverage to businesses willing to pay for fake news, and I suspect others do the same. Most are also so poorly operated that, like CR Hoy, they might as well be fake news. Indeed, much of what appears in the English-language press is lifted from CR Hoy.

    Although it gets more complicated than this, an underlying problem is the internet. Nowadays anyone can pose as a journalist and many do. The competition from these unqualified upstarts forces good media outlets to reduce their budgets and restrict their professional journalism.

    Anyway, there are problems right here in Costa Rica too.

  3. Canada’s Radio Act requires that “a licenser may not broadcast … any false or misleading news.” The provision has kept Fox News and right-wing talk radio out of Canada and helped make Canada a model for liberal democracy and freedom. As a result of that law, Canadians enjoy high quality news coverage, including the kind of foreign affairs and investigative journalism that flourished in this country before Ronald Reagan abolished the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987.

    I hope Costa Rica will adopt a similar law before it’s too late and as this article points out, that maybe upon us. What I’ve read in the “liberal” news like the Bloomberg business news in the last 2 months is beyond frightening (that’s all I dare read). It may take generations to undo the damage to the environment, what health system we have and the consumer protection and justice agencies. It seems weekly anyone in the way of big business is under attack, budgets slashed, men highly regarded by both political parties asked to resign or recently fired.

    I’d like to see the US put the Fairness Doctrine back into law but that’ll happen right after Congress passes a law saying Congress has to accept the same health care the rest of us do. Costa Rica has every right to be proud of their medical system. Look at all the countries who haven’t come close with 10 times the resources (or more).

    I don’t need to comment on the press. They’re a business that rely on advertising for their income and are committed to their stockholders. Fox News is an exception. They’re a megavirus and no one’s safe. Look what they’ve accomplished in the United States (they do control the Republican Party as this article alluded to, I’ll come right out and say it). I’m still in shock. I knew there were people who were ignorant, racists, bigots, etc but I had no idea the Civil War was still going on to this extent (and it won’t be ending any time soon).

    The only amusing thing I’ve found in this entire nightmare is as I watched the election Trump and Fox News both seemed as shocked as the rest of us that he won.