Last week I had the privilege to travel to Costa Rica as part of a scouting visit for a student study abroad trip. In completing an article about Guatemala, I was surprised to learn how little English-based writing has been done about Central American media, so I was curious to learn more about Costa Rica and its media.
Among the countries in the region, Costa Rica is perhaps the most stable. Tourism, mostly by people from the United States, drives the economy. Exports such as medical tech and baseballs also contribute to the economy. The country faces challenges with drug trafficking, immigration (primarily from Nicaragua), poverty, law enforcement, and gender-based violence.
Journalism plays a strong role in Costa Rica, as it does in most Latin American nations. Journalism there faces familiar challenges, including reputation loss, fake news, and funding declines. People are more informed than they ever were, however. User access to news is primarily through mobile devices, then television, and finally tablets at a distant 3 percent.
Entertainment television is dominated by United States programming. For example, the cable offerings included movies such as the Lord of the Rings trilogy (with the Elvish subtitled in Spanish) and The Proposal (don’t judge me). The country receives telenovelas from other countries, but it has no telenovela of its own.
One person frustrated with these offerings asked me why reality shows like 90 Day Fiance continue to appear on television. While the media might tell us that these are shows we want, arguably the bottom line informs these shows’ creation, which are cheaper and faster to produce than expensive sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory. The person asking made a compelling argument for how that show promotes human trafficking.
Another strong point that emerged from the week’s discussions is the importance of representations. The influx of U.S.-based programming squeezes out local programming and its voices. That influx also brings its fair share negative gender and ethnic stereotypes. The question arose: Why don’t audiences resist the negative representations more? Films like Wonder Woman and The Black Panther offer the rare exceptions in an otherwise overwhelming sea of negativity, at least in fiction.
Social media became a question as well. Mobile devices accessing news also access social media, though digital inequalities exist and coverage doesn’t reach the more rural and remote areas. Social networks there are more in person than online.
Advocacy groups use social media to help people and to promote their actions. Gender-based violence, particularly femicide, remains a problem in rural areas. Focusing on the potential victims, education provides one of the strongest means to escape it, as many women don’t know what options are available. In-person meetings play a strong role, but a Facebook page also encourages people to share their stories.
Another problem is incestual relationships between older men and teenage girls, and as a result the rate of teen pregnancy is quite high. Girls lack education, role models, and self-esteem to break that cycle, though some groups work to empower these girls through life skills, relationship skills, and critical thinking skills. Documentaries such as Girl Rising and Half the Sky help call attention to this issue, though each in its own way.
I also heard about a local documentary that followed one pregnant teen’s story: Kassandra: Una Mama de 13 Años. It was produced by NTN24 — Nuestra Tele Noticias 24– and some excerpts of the film are available.
In all, these observations only begin to scratch the surface of the media and social media in Costa Rica. Online searching makes learning about the media organizations, social movements, media productions, and social media possible, but there is something to be said about learning from the people making and using the media for their own purposes.