16 July 2002

SILENCE SURROUNDS MURDER OF POPULAR JOURNALIST


A year after popular Costa Rican radio journalist Parmenio Medina was shot and killed near his home in San José, a "silence" has descended on the investigation into his murder and journalists are afraid to conduct their own inquiries, says a new report issued by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).


Medina had been host of a radio show, "La Patada," for 28 years and was a vocal critic of the political elite and the Catholic Church. He was murdered a month and a half after Radio María, a highly-rated Catholic radio station, was shut down following Medina's reporting of alleged financial mismanagement at the station, says CPJ [See IFEX">http://communique.ifex.org/articles.cfm?system_id=3351">IFEX"Communiqué" #10-27]. The murder shocked a nation that normally prides itself on being a peaceful democracy.

The CPJ report reveals an atmosphere of self-censorship among journalists fearful of conducting their own investigations into Medina's death. Under Costa Rica's Penal Code, anyone who reproduces statements that may be deemed offensive - even if the statement is made by the Attorney General - can be punished.

In addition, regulations prohibit the Attorney General – in charge of investigating Medina's murder – from releasing names of suspects. Until last month, authorities had refused to hold a press conference about their investigations for 12 months.

Faced with this situation, journalists investigating Medina's murder usually censor themselves, the report says. A poll published by daily newspaper "La Nacion" revealed that more than 50 per cent of the 81 journalists interviewed said they had been intimidated by public officials critical of their reporting. Thirty-seven per cent said officials threatened to sue them for slander, libel and defamation.

Many Costa Rican journalists interviewed for the report expressed pessimism about Medina's murderers ever being brought to justice. In fact, some fear his case will "set a precedent for those wishing to intimidate reporters."

Although a commission was formed shortly after Medina's murder to examine possible reforms to the country's defamation laws, only one of nine proposed bills was approved, says CPJ. It left untouched the "crimes against honour" law which punishes anyone who libels, slanders, defames or reproduces offensive statements against an individual, including a public official.

To see CPJ's report, go to www.cpj.org.">http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2002/Costa_rica_july02/Costa_rica_july02.html">www.cpj.org.">http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2002/Costa_rica_july02/Costa_rica_july02.html">www.cpj.org.">http://www.cpj.org/Briefings/2002/Costa_rica_july02/Costa_rica_july02.html">www.cpj.org.
Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Damocles Network, an anti-impunity group of lawyers, journalists and human rights activists, have launched an awareness campaign in the Costa Rican press to mark the anniversary of Medina's death. Last month, the groups visited the country to inquire into the status of the investigation.

For more information, see www.rsf.org">http://www.rsf.org">www.rsf.organd www.damocles.org.">http://www.damocles.org">www.damocles.org.



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