Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Costa Rica 16th out of 180 countries surveyed in its annual press freedom index. The ranking is Costa Rica’s best showing since 2002, when the country was listed at 15th, despite police intercepting phone records from a journalist at the daily Diario Extra.
Costa Rica saw marginal improvement in an already “enviable” score from the RSF, but press freedoms globally saw dramatic drops during 2014 when 13 journalists were killed worldwide. Costa Rica’s abuse score, which tracks violence and harassment of journalists, was zero, registering no such cases. No journalists were killed in Costa Rica during 2014.
The country saw its ranking rise in 2015, but Costa Rica’s score dropped slightly compared to 2014. Considering that the Paris-based organization noted “worldwide deterioration” in press freedoms, Costa Rica’s improvement in the ranking likely has as much to do with worsening conditions elsewhere as it did with the non-militaristic country’s strong reputation for freedom of expression.
“Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents,” the report noted.
Organized crime, impunity and paramilitaries were listed among Latin America’s biggest threats to press freedom. In Colombia (128th), paramilitary groups still operating in the countryside threatened and intimidated journalists.
In Mexico (148th), the most dangerous place for journalists to work in Latin America, three journalists were killed in 2014, including two for investigating links between drug cartels and government officials. Still, Mexico actually improved its score by four places in 2015. RSF noted, however, that journalists attacked during the November protests over the disappearance of 43 trainee teachers in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, were not counted in the 2015 results.
In Latin America, Venezuela (137th, down 20) and Ecuador (108th, down 13) saw the greatest drops in the group’s definition of press freedom.
Brazil (99th), another dangerous country for journalists, improved 12 places from last year. The report was sanguine about the results there, noting that it was a “case for satisfaction” because only two journalists were killed instead of five the previous year.
Other Central American and Caribbean scores included Cuba (169th), Guatemala (124th), Honduras (132nd), El Salvador (45th), Nicaragua (74th), and Panama (83rd).
No serious violence was reported against journalists in Costa Rica, but the report was troubled when Judicial Investigation Police traced phone calls from crime reporter Manuel Estrada in an attempt to discover the names of confidential sources inside the judicial branch. Press freedom groups, including the International Press Institute and Reporters Without Borders, denounced the spying.
The Costa Rican Supreme Court said the spying was unconstitutional, declaring that police violated the principle of proportionality governing the collecting of phone records, and violated Estrada’s privacy. The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, however, said there was no evidence that other journalists at Diario Extra or management at its parent company, Grupo Extra, were victims of spying, as originally alleged by the newspaper.
On Wednesday, National Liberation Party lawmakers filed an appeal with the Sala IV that challenges a directive by the Legislative Assembly’s directorate prohibiting officials from providing information or statements to the press without approval by the Assembly’s executive director. Opposition lawmakers contended that the policy restricts press freedom.
Finland, Norway and Denmark topped the list for the fifth year running. The United States ranked 49th, down three spots; Canada came in eighth. The Charlie Hebdo attacks in France (38th) occurred outside the window for the 2015 index. Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea were the lowest scoring countries.