Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO No serious affronts to freedom of the press occurred over the past six months. Harmful developments include the criminal defamation law and its impact on the practice of journalism, evaluation of the work done by the government's Central Communications Office, and a number of physical and verbal attacks on journalists. The Central Communications Office established in La Fortaleza in 1994 to centralize government advertising is under evaluation by the administration of Governor Sila María Calderón, to determine whether it is complying with its terms of reference. A number of journalists and press photographers covering show business have been attacked verbally and physically. The attacks have come in response to pieces in the print, radio and television press on shows, especially published reviews of concerts by singers of popular music. The million-dollar libel suit brought by the governor against the newspaper El Vocero and its reporter Jorge Luis Medina continues to move forward. The suit relates to articles published during the election campaign asserting that the governor mistreated a former Dominican household employee. A number of people, including Medina, have been subpoenaed to give depositions. The newspaper argues that the article, which was based on a sworn statement by the employee, was published in the exercise of freedom of expression and of the press. Still pending is the case following on the complaint filed in federal court by journalists Leila Andreu, president of the Association of Journalists of Puerto Rico (ASPPRO), and Joel Colón of Teleonce against Puerto Rico's national police for alleged attacks on them during the summer 1998 strike at the Puerto Rico Telephone Company. Finally, the criminal defamation law is being challenged in federal court in a case brought by El Vocero. A number of free speech organizations, such as the Center for Press Freedom, are working to repeal this law.