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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Costa Rica

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Costa Rica, February 1999, available at: [accessed 11 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As of December 31, 1998

Costa Rica's strong democratic institutions have nurtured a vibrant press, and President Miguel Angel Rodríguez has generally supported the media. Yet punitive press laws have sometimes inhibited the full exercise of press freedom.

Costa Rica took a major step toward the elimination of the most onerous statues in 1998, when President Rodríguez proposed in an October speech that libel legislation be modified to conform to international standards. If the proposed changes are approved by the Costa Rican legislature, reporters could only be prosecuted for libel if they acted with malice by publishing statements that they knew, or should have known, were false (this is the malice standard first articulated in the U.S. Supreme Court in The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan). Under current standards, the burden of proof is on the reporter to demonstrate that published information is true.

Rodríguez, who took office in May, has also proposed abolishing a law holding newspaper editors legally responsible for all defamatory articles. Congress is expected to pass the new legislation in early 1999.

In other positive developments, the Constitutional Court overturned legislation that prohibited the media from publishing poll results on the day of an election; the court also sent another proposed law, which would make it more difficult for reporters to gain access to financial data, back to the legislature because of procedural errors in the way the law was drafted.

Despite the advances, serious problems remain. Defamation is a criminal rather than a civil offense in Costa Rica. In addition, under the "Right to Reply," individuals who feel they have been treated unfairly can legally compel a media outlet to grant them equal space or time for rebuttal. Finally, legislators can force journalists to testify about articles, as occurred in June when the Legislative Assembly ordered editors from the daily La Nación to appear to answer questions about a story linking Colombia's Cali drug cartel to Costa Rican business and politicians. One of the legislators who participated in the questioning was mentioned in the story.

Copyright notice: © Committee to Protect Journalists. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced only with permission from CPJ.

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