Puerto Rico

PUERTO RICO The most important events concerning press freedom are the out of court settlement between the government and El Nuevo D(a of the newspaper's lawsuit in a federal court and various legal actions against individual journalists. The details follow: -In May the government of Puerto Rico and El Nuevo D(a agreed to settle the civil suit that the newspaper had filed in U.S. Federal Court for violations of the rights of press freedom; The agreement achieved important victories that strengthen the legal right of press freedom in Puerto Rico. Under the agreement, the government said it would not use official advertising to reward or punish any news outlet, and from now on it will be public policy for news companies to compete freely for government advertising. -The salary of radio reporter Luis Francisco Ojeda, who is critical of the current government, was attached to satisfy a debt with the government. Because of the selectivity and severity of the measure, the journalistic organizations in Puerto Rico called it a form of intimidation against a voice that is critical of the government. After a group supporting Ojeda collected close to $100,000, the government granted him a repayment plan. -The newspaper El Vocero has gone to the state court to challenge the constitutionality of four articles in the Penal Code that categorize libel and defamation as criminal offenses. Elsa Rivera Colon, a police official, filed a lawsuit against a reporter for El Vocero who was investigating corruption in the police. The policewoman sought to bring criminal charges against the reporter, citing the abovementioned articles. The original challenge to the articles, before Judge Perez Jimenez, was brought by El Vocero and Obed Betancourt in March of 1999. The second case was filed by Tomas de Jesus Mangual, based on a threat to sue by the same police officer who had sued Betancourt. In both proceedings the plaintiffs have sought a ruling that Articles 118-121 of the Penal Code are unconstitutional. -El Nuevo Dia, the government and Sacred Heart University signed an agreement to set up the Puerto Rico Center of Press Freedom to educate the public about the responsibilities of a free press through public forums, academic research and oversight of matters concerning press freedom in Puerto Rico. -In the town of Toa Alta, supporters of acting mayor David Rosa got into a shoving and punching match with journalists trying to cover the arrival of the new mayor. The acting mayor's supporters caused a riot in which several journalists were injured-Channel 11 cameraman Hector Ivan Aponte; Ranier Rentas and Denise Perez of the newspaper El Mundo; Jose Estevez of Telemundo; and Jose Ismael Fernandez and Benjamin Torres Goray of El Nuevo Dia. -At a demonstration against the U.S. Marines, journalist Juanita Colombani, photographer Angel Vazquez and reporter Annette Cuevas of Noti Seis were injured when officers of the police shock force tried to remove the demonstrators. Television footage showed that the demonstration was peaceful and the police had provoked the inCidents, attacking journalists. -Victor Garcia San Inocencio, a legislator of the Puerto Rican Independence party, introduced a bill to classify attacks on working journalists as an aggravated crime. -Kenneth McClintock, a New Progressive Party senator, introduced a bill that could threaten freedom of expression. It would keep the content of messages sent bye-mail and via the Internet confidential. -Manny Suarez of The San Juan Star alleged that discrimination against him continues. Suarez, a journalist with 40 years experience who is well known for his investigation of the Maravilla case, alleges that his editors prohibited him from covering local political news. He said the former press secretary of the Fortaleza, Pedro Rosario Urdaz, who resigned this month, had asked the owner of the paper to have him taken off the beat.