Though the Costa Rican media generally pumps out relatively anodyne and conservative coverage of local and regional issues (shadowing the antics of the president and the political elite with dogged tenacity), it’s possible to find good investigative journalism, particularly in the daily La Nación. There are also a number of interesting local radio stations, though TV coverage leaves a lot to be desired.
In San José, all domestic newspapers are sold on the street by vendors. Elsewhere, you can find them in newsagents and pulperías (general stores). All are tabloid format, with colourful, eye-catching layout and presentation.
Though the Costa Rican press is free, it does indulge in a certain follow-the-leader journalism. Leader of the pack is the daily La Nación, voice of the (right-of-centre) establishment and owned by the country’s biggest media consortium; other highbrow dailies and television channels more or less parrot its line. Historically, La Nación has featured some good investigative reporting, as in the Banco Anglo corruption scandal and Costa Rica’s continuing drug-trafficking problems. It also comes with a useful daily pull-out arts section, Viva, with listings of what’s on in San José, and the classifieds are handy for almost anything, including long-term accommodation.
Also quite serious is La República, even if they do have a tendency to slap a football photo on the front page no matter what’s happening in the world. Alternative voices include El Heraldo, a small but high-quality daily, and La Prensa Libre, the very good left-leaning evening paper. The weekly Semanario Universidad (w www.semanario.ucr.ac.cr), the voice of the University of Costa Rica, certainly goes out on more of a limb than the big dailies, with particularly good coverage of the arts and the current political scene; you can find it on or around campus in San José’s university district of San Pedro, and also in libraries.
Local English-language papers include the venerable and serious Tico Times, which comes out on Fridays and is a good source of information for travellers; the ads regularly feature hotel and restaurant discounts, as do the various other glossies produced by the tourist board. As for the foreign press, you can pick up recent copies of the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Miami Herald, Newsweek, Time and sometimes the Financial Times in the souvenir shop beside the Gran Hotel Costa Rica in downtown San José and at the La Casa de Revistas on the southwest corner of Parque Morazán. Of the San José bookstores, Librerías Lehmann and Librería Universal keep good stocks of mainstream and non-mainstream foreign magazines; the Mark Twain Library at the Centro Cultural Costarricense-Norteamericano also receives English-language publications.
There are lots of commercial radio stations in Costa Rica, all pumping out techno and house, along with a bit of salsa, annoying commercials and the odd bout of government-sponsored pseudo propaganda promoting the general wonder that is Costa Rica. Some of the more interesting local radio stations have only a limited airtime, such as Radio Emperador, Radio Costa Rica and Radio Alajuela, which features Costa Rican singers, along with some talk spots, from 8.30pm to midnight. A fascinating programme is El Club del Taxista Costarricense – the “Costa Rican Taxi Driver’s Club” – broadcast by Radio Columbia from 9 to 10.30am. This social and political talk show, nearing its 40th year, was initially directed only at taxi drivers, but its populist appeal has led to it being adopted by the general population. Radio Dos has an English-language morning show, Good Morning Costa Rica, which runs from 6 to 9am.
Most Costa Rican households have a television, beaming out a range of wonderfully awful Mexican or Venezuelan telenovelas (soap operas) and some not-so-bad domestic news programmes. On the downside, Costa Rica is also the graveyard for 1970s American TV, the place where The Dukes of Hazzard and other such delights, dubbed into Spanish, come back to haunt you.
Canal 7, owned by Teletica, is the main national station, particularly strong in local and regional news. Other than its news show, Telenoticias, Costa Rica has few home-grown products, and Canal 7’s programming comprises a mix of bought-in shows from Spanish-speaking countries plus a few from the US. Repretel’s Canal 6 is the main competitor, very similar in content, while Canal 19 mostly shows US programmes and movies dubbed into Spanish. The Mexican cable channels are good for news, and even have reports from Europe. Many places also subscribe to CNN and other cable channels, such as HBO, Cinemax and Sony Entertainment, which show wall-to-wall reruns of hit comedy shows and films.