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There was a problem at the polls in Costa Rica – and I was part of it – The Tico Times | Costa Rica News | Travel

There’s a lot of stress for the media to capture what it’s supposed to. The media landscape in Costa Rica is tough and competitive. Publications are constantly at risk of going under and looking for ways to cut costs; no reporter wants to be one of the casualties. I didn’t feel good about what I did, and neither did several others.

Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times

Jose Cabezas, a Reuters photographer based in San Salvador, said he was shocked by the level of chaos he saw.

“You get some chaos in elections in El Salvador, but nothing like the level I saw in Costa Rica,” Cabezas said. “I really didn’t expect that.”

On top of the chaos, Cabezas was surprised when Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) officials tried to block journalists from taking pictures of the candidates voting by placing tables and garbage cans in front of them. Cabezas said that in El Salvador elections, also take place in schools, but the press is assigned specific areas to film and photograph candidates voting.

“I really hope the situations changes because we all came out looking bad,” Cabezas said. “The TSE for bad planning, and the media for lack of respect just to get an image, all when this was completely avoidable.”

There are things that can be done to make this more organized in Costa Rica, but this might be more of a symptom than a cause.


President Luis Guillermo Solís being asked questions while voting at the Colegio México in Barrio Aranjuez, San José. Alexander Villegas / The Tico Times

Cuts have also turned us into a reactionary press, rushing from an accident to a new event without the time to sit back. We’re so intent on getting the next photo that we forget to look at the big picture.

How many great stories went untold on Sunday because so many reporters were in one city, covering two people in a country of 4.9 million? What if each one of us went to an under-reported area throughout the country with the same tenacity we showed in that school on Sunday? What if we used our senior-citizen-trampling tenacity to tell the stories of voters or towns who’ve never had a national voice? What if we did that and showed voters a more human side of the national press, instead of being a soulless wrecking ball willing to trample them to get the same clip from a thousand different angles?

We would be better off as a country, as a democracy and as a society. I know that daily news must feed the beast and it serves an important role in our society. But the rest of us, including me, can do better. Instead of taking a step back from the mob, we can walk away from it altogether and teach younger reporters to do the same.

We can go somewhere ignored, a place in the shadows that needs someone to shine a light.

To everyone who had a bad experience on Sunday because of the press, I’m sorry.

Born in the United States, raised in Costa Rica, and educated in Canada, Alexander Villegas is a freelance journalist and photographer focusing on under-reported issues across Latin America. Alexander’s stories and photographs have appeared in the Guardian, CBC, the Tyee, Bluff, and others. He served on The Tico Times’ Elections Team on April 1, 2018.


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