Legislative committee votes to advance gag law fixes

Lawmakers hurried through a reform of a new and controversial law Wednesday in an effort to change what has become known as the gag law.

The members of the Comisión de Derechos Humanos sent the measure forward despite the wishes of one member that experts and representatives of interested organizations be brought in to give their views.

This is the measure that would penalize the distribution of what are called political secrets. Journalism organizations have said this was an effort by lawmakers to protect themselves from negative news.

Coincidentally, one of the lawmakers coordinating this effort is Jorge Angulo Mora. He has been accused of influence peddling and is facing criminal proceedings. The news media spearheaded a look into this situation.

The text of the proposed changes to the existing law was not available Wednesday night. Reports from the legislature said that the new rewrite would exempt journalistic efforts from the law’s penalties. Some penalties also have been reduced.

Those who have protested the law have pointed out that not just news people are affected by the new law but that citizens, too, have a right to look into government activities.

The proposed rewrite creates a new section in the law that prevents punishment for those who seek information that is deemed to be in the public interest except as it relates to minors.

Oscar Alfaro Zamora, a member of the committee said Wednesday that he would prefer to hear from experts and representatives of the journalistic community before sending the measure forward. But that idea was rejected by the majority of the committee.

The original bill that generated so much controversy when it was published earlier this month in the La Gazeta official newspaper had gone through all the agencies that review proposed legislation including the courts. The Colegio de Periodistas, the journalistic professional group, has been protesting the measure for months but it passed the legislation anyway and was signed into law by President Laura Chinchilla.

The existing law provides prison for from four to eight years for disclosing political secrets, among other offenses. The colegio argues that this would prevent investigative reporting.

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