Government control of the media is next in Costa Rica
Often times warnings about conspiracies are taken lightly and frequently those who warn about them are labeled conspiracy theorists. The label is given to try to discredit their position and assassinate their character. However, there is little doubt about conspiracies when the conspirators themselves tell the public about their plans explicitely and openly. Yesterday we reported how a draft bill proposed by the Ministry of Science and Technology in Costa Rica (MICITT) seeks to erode long-held freedoms in that country. After numerous public complains, however, the very Minister of Science and Technology stated that the controversial articles drafted by unknown people at her office would be promptly removed and that a new draft would be presented. Gisela Kopper explained to the press that given the strong popular opposition seen in the last 24 hours, she was temporarily withdrawing the draft proposal and that a new one would be submitted at a later time. According to experts and constitutional lawyers, the articles that attempted to give the Ministry of Science and Technology the power to regulate the press and the content of news programs are carbon copies of legislation enacted in other Latin American countries in which the central government took over control of the press. The newspaper El Financiero reports that the legislation is part of a growing trend in Latin America, where governments have taken it upon themselves to control mass media. Asdrúbal Aguiar, a specialist cited by the newspaper said that the proposal “intends to turn the mass media into a public service” which immediately promotes initiatives for the government to regulate both the media and the content they present to the public. Aguilar added that the draft bill is contradictory because while “it labels the operation of mass media as a public service, it also treats it as a business,” obligating media owners to pay licenses to operate them. In the same article, El Financiero cites the opinion of Claudio Paotillo, a member of the Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, a media watchdog. According to Paolillo, the draft bill is not only a bad idea because it intends to regulate the media outlets, but also because its creators also want to regulate the content. Several articles in the original draft explicitly sought to close media companies if they broadcast content that was deemed “offensive” by a group of unelected bureaucrats at MICITT. Under the original bill, the MICITT would be able to close media outlets after two violations for as long as one year. Given the clarity with which government official explained their plans to take over the media, several constitutional experts sounded the alarms about the illegality of the proposal presented by the MICITT. The experts warn that the potential constitutional violations contained in the bill are multi-pronged. First, there is the ideological issue, whereby government officials seek to regulate the content of news and other programs based on what they see appropriate. Second, the creators of the draft also ignored the legal reality of the country by writing a proposal that evidently goes against constitutional guarantees related to free speech and freedom of the press. To all this, the Costa Rican president, Luis Guillermo Solís said he was open about his intention to push the proposal to change the way in which the media operates. He said that he was ready to pay the political price if need be. He added that the intention to change the way the media operates represents the new way in which his government intends to carry out political agendas. According to local media, Solís answered questions about the opposition to the bill by saying that he was “willing to pay the political price that needed to be paid for the process to work,” but that he was not “willing to pay the political price to be silly or for causing damage to institutionalisms.“ Solís said that the intention is not to erode the freedom of the press, but that it is necessary to “modernize the system that governs over mass media”. Today, the Costa Rican Association for Radio and Television (CANARTEL) held a special event in which members talked in detail about the draft bill that seeks to regulate freedom of the press and free speech. During the event, professionals warned that the proposal is completely opposite to the traditions that have kept a free press for over 70 years. They also explained that the initiative to regulate the media and the content they can present to the public even violates international guidelines because it seeks to restrict freedom of expression. On this regard, the Costa Rican president said he did not know the details of the proposal presented by MICITT but that the confusion was most likely due to technicalities included by staff who wrote the bill. He added that any confusions should be worked out and solved. Despite Solís’s statements, it is clear that a small group of bureaucrats in his administration have sought to pull a quick one with this new attempt to “modernize” the system which already regulates the press in Costa Rica. The proposal presented by the MICITT, whether the president recognizes it or not, is a clear example that some people in his government don’t like to be subjected to scrutiny and that includes Solís himself, who a few days ago complained about the way the press reported the news. 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