Court rulings boost free expression, access to information
While the freedom of expression is already largely respected in Costa Rica, the situation has improved further as a result of a recent Supreme Court ruling. On 18th October the Constitutional Chamber of the Costa Rican Supreme Court of Justice issued a ruling in favour of journal La Nación. The paper had taken a case against the National Bank, which had stopped advertising with La Nación after the newspaper released a series of reports on an internal crisis at the bank. The Constitutional Chamber said this was a case of indirect censorship, since public funds had been used to “punish” and therefore discipline the newspaper. The court ordered the National Bank to stick to their original media plan, which included La Nación among the newspapers receiving official advertising revenues.
On the same day, access to information advocates received a boost when the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Costa Rica found in favour of a municipal employee in a case where public information was withheld by his superiors. The Tribunal's decision awarded the case to Mr. Fernando Chavarría Quirós, Deputy Mayor of the Municipality of Goicoechea, who had requested information on behalf of a citizen, but was refused and told that requests for information had to be personally approved by the mayor. The mayor had also summoned him to let him now that he was not entitled to request any type of information. The Electoral Tribunal ordered the mayor to repeal her decision and provide Mr. Chavarría Quirós with all information requested. Although several pieces of legislation and judicial decisions currenly back the right to access public information in Costa Rica, the country does not have a dedicated freedom of information act, the need for which is currently being discussed by civil society.
Earlier in October, the professional organisation of journalists in Costa Rica (the Colegio de Periodistas) warned of an imminent decision by the regulator to allow private companies to charge for data downloaded to mobile phones through apps like Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter. The group cautioned that this move would worsen the digital gap in the country. A press release issued by Colegio de Periodistas on 12th October stated:
From our perspective, the potential increase [in the price] of this service will set clear limits to the work of journalists and communicators, and will have a negative impact on universal access to internet services among the population, fostering an increase in the digital gap, and therefore negatively affecting the democratisation of information.
¿Es o no necesaria una ley de acceso a la información pública en Costa Rica? ¿Cuál es su percepción? Invitamos a este evento. https://t.co/D6adpJ1Qfs— Abriendodatos CR (@abriendodatoscr) October 25, 2016