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President Takes to the Air, Restricts Access to Ministers

June 15, 2007

As both sides of the U.S.-trade-pact debate gear up for an upcoming nationwide referendum, President Oscar Arias recently launched a new vehicle to present his vision to the country: his own half-hour television show on government station Channel 13.

“Hoy con el Presidente” (“Today with the President”), which airs every Tuesday at 8:30 p.m., focuses on a different topic each week, from education to the fight against poverty.

Segments include “Vox Populi” (“The Voice of the People”), in which Arias answers questions from citizens, and “Para Usted” (“For You”), which will recognize people who overcome obstacles to achieve a goal.

This week’s show featured presidential press chief Mishelle Mitchell, a former Channel 7 TV News anchor, interviewing Arias and Public Works and Transport Minister Karla González on the topic of infrastructure.

The leaders, backed by a screen flashing images of the Costa Rican flag and Arias at various public events, also responded to written and videotaped questions from viewers and a taped query from a traffic policeman wondering how the Arias administration plans to address San José’s horrendous rush-hour gridlock.

González mentioned sensors for traffic lights, now being installed, and increased metropolitan train routes as possible solutions.

Those wishing to submit questions or comments for the show can e-mail Arias at hoyconelpresidente@casapres.go.cr or by fax at 253-1485.

The announcement of the new show, which first aired May 15, came shortly after the daily La Nación published an article describing the Arias administration’s restrictions on press access to Cabinet ministers – though Casa Presidencial spokeswoman Marissa Guillen told The Tico Times this is a “misinterpretation.”

As during the administration of President Abel Pacheco (2002-2006), reporters hear presentations from, and are allowed to question, certain Cabinet ministers at a press conference held following Arias’ weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesdays (though Arias, unlike Pacheco, does not attend the press conferences himself, represented instead by his brother and spokesman Rodrigo Arias).

However, the Arias administration now prohibits reporters from interviewing ministers who are not attending that week’s press conference as they leave the Cabinet meeting through the front entrance of Casa Presidencial.

Guillen said this was done to reduce chaos as the conference began, and added that reporters are welcome to interview any minister between 8-10 a.m. as they arrive at the private Cabinet meeting, or to arrange interviews with them at any other time, directly with the minister or through each ministry’s press office.

Reporters seeking interviews with Arias, his brother and Presidency Minister Rodrigo Arias, First Vice-President Laura Chinchilla or Second Vice-President Kevin Casas are asked to coordinate those interviews through the Casa Presidencial Press Office, she explained.

 

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