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Minister Criticizes Gag Rule From Elections Tribunal

Restrictions on paid advertisements by public officials or institutions about their work sparked controversy this week, with the Executive Branch calling unnecessary part of a ban made public by the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) earlier.

Under debate: whether, in light of the municipal elections to be held Dec. 3, a clause of the Electoral Code prohibiting such publicity during election season should apply to all levels of government or only municipalities.

Article 85 of the country’s Electoral Code states that from the day after the tribunal officially convenes the campaign until Election Day – in this case, a period stretching Aug. 2-Dec. 3 – government institutions including state-owned businesses cannot use paid TV, print or radio spots to publicize their work. The exception is when the information is “of an eminently technical character that is indispensable and contains information that cannot be postponed,”such as public service announcements.

The TSE published Article 85 as part of an advertisement Sunday in the daily La Nación after the Executive Branch ran five television spots about the first 100 days of President Oscar Arias’ administration.

Arias’ brother and spokesman, Rodrigo Arias, said yesterday that the Cabinet has asked the tribunal to reconsider and publish “an authentic interpretation of the article” that only applies to municipalities, since municipal leaders are the only officials up for election Dec. 3. According to Arias, there’s no reason to apply the prohibition to the Executive Branch or other central institutions.

Monday, La Nación reported that the Presidency’s segments on national television stations violated the prohibition. Arias’ press chief,Mishelle Mitchell, told the daily the spots weren’t propaganda, but rather efforts to provide information about what the administration has done.

“And it can’t be postponed.We can’t say six months from now what we did in the first 100 days,” she said.

The opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC) released a statement Wednesday criticizing the Foreign Trade Ministry (COMEX) for publishing “propaganda in the media supporting the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA)” earlier in the month. PAC opposes CAFTA, while the Arias administration supports it.

Violations of Article 85 are punishable with 15 days in jail, TSE Secretary Alejandro Bermúdez told The Tico Times yesterday. He said he could not comment on whether the Tribunal might pursue sanctions in the alleged violations of the article by the Executive Branch.



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