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‘Soft Censorship’ Is Plaguing Latin America

September 19, 2008

A new report concludes that many governments in Central and South America use bribes and ad placement to manipulate the news coverage they receive.

The study shows direct bribes to reporters are “institutionalized” in Honduras and that since the presidential administration of Abel Pacheco (2002-2006) in Costa Rica, government agencies here have been known to retaliate against national newspapers that criticize them by canceling or decreasing their ads.

“In 2004, then-president Pacheco ordered members of his government to stop advertising in (the daily) La Nación, the country’s most important newspaper, in retaliation for its critical coverage,” states the report. “Some (ad) allocations for political incentives seem to have continued under the current administration (of Oscar Arias), but to a lesser degree.”

The report cites the example of former Second Vice President Kevin Casas getting fired in 2007 after a memo was leaked in which he argued, among other controversial points, that selective ad strategy should be used to procure more favorable coverage for Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA).

The report, released by the Open Society Institute (OSI), was presented by Eduardo Ulibarri, the president of Costa Rica’s Press and Freedom of Expression Institute (IPLEX). OSI is affiliated with the Soros Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by Hungarian-U.S. international financier and billionaire George Soros.

Ulibarri, whose group has lobbied unsuccessfully for four years for freedom of the press and expression laws in Costa Rica, said it’s time the country has a serious debate on these “soft censorship” issues.

“And reporters have to take more interest to improve their awareness in the face of an oppressive confusion in trying to practice their profession.”

Ulibarri said the country’s laws are too vague, making reporters vulnerable to politicians who want to manipulate information to their advantage.

“Our laws are so vague and flexible that any interpretation can be arrived at,” he said.

Article 30 of the Costa Rican Constitution guarantees citizens the right to information and documents from public entities within 10 days that are “of interest to the public” with the exception of “state secrets.” But the law defines neither term, public agencies frequently don’t comply with the Constitution without giving a reason, and there is no agency enforcing violations of information requests.

The only recourse an offended party has is to file an injunction with the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV).

The study examined government-press relations in Costa Rica, Honduras, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay.

 

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