Puerto Rico

A number of actions against the media and journalists in recent months have limited press freedom. The Center for Freedom of the Press had been in discussions with Admiral Kevin P. Green, commander of the US Southern Command Naval Forces, over press coverage within the Navy's restricted areas on Vieques Island during naval exercises. Two meetings were held, and letters, e-mails and phone calls were exchanged. After receiving a letter from Admiral Green dated January 18, 2002, the Center for Freedom of the Press concluded that the final terms for access set out in the letter were too strict and severely limited the press's ability to cover stories from all angles, especially the arrests of civil disobedience protesters. The admiral was notified of the Center's position in a letter of February 15, 2002. In February federal prosecutors asked Chief District Judge Héctor Lafitte of the US District Court of Puerto Rico to investigate and, if necessary, punish attorneys leaking information to the press in a corruption case involving former education secretary Víctor Fajardo, other members of the New Progressive Party (PNP) and suppliers of services to the Department of Education. This complex case is being heard in federal court. The San Juan Star, represented by staff journalists Martin Gerard Delfin and Douglas Zher, has challenged a federal court order sealing the transcripts and sound recordings in the case of Edison Misla Aldarondo, a former speaker of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives. Misla Aldarondo has been accused of money laundering, influence peddling and tampering with the appointment of a federal prosecutor. Journalist Luis Francisco Ojeda, host of the radio interview program "Ojeda Sin Limite" which frequently discusses corruption cases, was suspended for one week by radio station WKAQ Radio Reloj. The station claimed the suspension was unrelated to Ojeda's investigative work, but a political analyst said it had to do with a federal judge. The Department of Corrections has also tried to institute a gag rule on releasing information to the press on the Parole Board, which determines when prisoners can be released before they have served their full term. Arbitrary treatment of journalists and photojournalists covering show business celebrities and the police beat has continued in recent months. In another incident, a group of legislators tried to limit the information released to the press during a visit relating to security measures at Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. An editorial in the newspaper El Vocero criticized a full-page ad placed by pharmaceutical company Schering-Plough, which branded an article published by the newspaper as "inflammatory journalism" for documenting some of the company's troubles. The New York Times published a similar article, and El Vocero claims the company raised no objections. The case brought by attorney Juan Marchand Quintero to have the Criminal Defamation Act declared unconstitutional is still in federal court. In November the House of Representatives approved a bill to give the press access once again to the record of divorce and family cases without a court order, but the bill has not passed the Senate. Puerto Rico's governor, Sila María Calderón, divorced businessman Adolfo Kranz after 23 years of marriage, and information leaked to the press even though the court sealed the documents under this law. In October the speaker of Puerto Rico's Senate, Antonio Faz Alzamora, did not approve a bill sponsored by fellow senator Juan Cancel Alegría of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which would have barred the Government Accounting Office from releasing details or opinions on its investigations to the press.