QCOSTARICA – The Constitutional Court of Costa Rica slammed President Rodrigo Chaves for the insults against journalists.
The court decision follows an appeal by Jason Ureña, a journalist from CRHOY.com, against Chaves and the then Minister of Health, Joselyn Chacón, for their verbal lashing against the journalist, including calling him “maldito”, at a press conference held at Casa Presidencial on January 9, 2023.
The minister and president showed irritation over the line of questioning by Ureña of the connections with the troll known as Piero Calandrelli with the former minister, as well as with members of Congress and reporters.
In his appeal, Ureña said that the president had called reporters from La Nacion, Teletica and Crhoy.com “sicarios politicos” (political hitmen), in an effort to delegitimize his investigative work.
He stated that the normalization of verbal violence against a journalist is a highly concerning issue in a democracy, particularly coming from the president and one of his ministers, who should be upholding respect and protecting fundamental rights.
The magistrates ruled that the president and former minister had gone too far with their words and that these could be seen as harassment against the media and journalists.
In a statement, the Constitutional Court said that press conferences, especially televised, have been really beneficial for democracy. However, they also declared that using disrespectful and offensive language against journalists is a violation of press freedom.
The magistrates unanimously decided to allow the appeal, sentencing the State to pay costs, and damages.
“The Recurso Amparo (Appeal) is partially declared with place (…) the State is condemned to the payment of the costs, damages.
“The Constitutional Court determined that certain expressions and words used by officials are not justified and constitute an excess, so they could promote the harassment against the media and journalists mentioned. In this regard, this Court also considers that press conferences, especially televised, have been very useful for democratic states, however, the use of disrespectful and offensive language against journalists constitutes an injury to press freedom, hence unanimously the magistrates partially declared with place the Appeal only for compensation purposes,” said the magistrates of the high court, Cruz Castro, Rueda Leal, Araya García and Garro Vargas, through a press release.
The magistrates said that it’s okay for public officials to criticize the media or journalists if they feel they are being treated unfairly, inaccurately, or excessively. However, they warned against going overboard.
This isn’t the first time the State has been condemned for the president’s violations of free journalism in the country.
Back in October 2022, the Constitutional Court overturned the closure of Parque Viva, which had been ordered closed by the then-Minister Chacón, because it was seen as an attack on freedom of the press. The appeal was made by some journalists from La Nación (which is owned by the Grupo Nacion, which also owns Parque Viva).
Read more: Constitutional Court annuls health order that closed Parque Viva
Freedom of the Press in Costa Rica
Recent attacks on journalists by the government have led to Costa Rica’s fall in the press freedom index, dropping from 8th place to 23rd (out of 180 countries).
The report by Reporters Without Borders states that freedom of the press and expression are still respected in Costa Rica, but certain media outlets have been verbally attacked by the Executive and there have been restrictions in obtaining public information.
The Constitutional Court has advocated for freedom of the press on many occasions and even forced various government entities to provide information to the media.
Despite the Executive’s attempts to discredit the press, journalists have not faced any real threats to their physical integrity or been imprisoned.
Journalism is protected by the country’s laws and the Constitutional Court has ensured the protection of source confidentiality and the importance of a free press in a democracy.
The Minister of Communication, Jorge Rodríguez Vives, said in a video that the government hasn’t been officially notified yet, so they can’t issue an opinion.
With notes from La Nacion and Crhoy.com