Puerto Rico

The most relevant problem for press freedom in this March-October period was a ban on reporters and news photographers from entering the Senate chamber, preventing them from providing coverage of legislative action for their media. What was involved was an order made to reporters on June 25 by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, after the previous evening banning entry of news photographers. Without the presence of the public and journalists the Senate adopted the 2010-2011 government budget, which had already been passed by the House of Representatives and which contained several highly controversial provisions. In short, press freedom was curtailed so as to be able to legislate in the dark. This restriction on the press was a culminating episode in a chain of other verbal abuses. But it was not the only one in the saga, in that since October 2009 in the same Senate public access had been banned. The Center for Press Freedom, the Puerto Rico Journalists’ Association, the Overseas Press Club and various media, social sectors and the political opposition denounced this act of censorship. Although the Senate president gave way to public pressure, he continued to limit access to the chamber. Journalists received a letter from him in which he “ordered” how they should do their job. He said, among other things, that the reporters must be accredited and show their credential all the time they were covering the Senate, something that is usual for reporters and news photographers. On June 30 student, labor, and feminist organizations staged a protest at the Capitol building and were met with blows and attacks on the part of the police. The scenes were photographed and published by news media and this set off another wave of indignation. However, no charges have been laid against the police officers, nor have the results of investigations into the events been announced. On October 7 a serious case in which the federal justice system dragged its feet was a petition of aggression initiated in 2006 by a group of journalists against agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This case turned up again in the Boston Appeals Court in arguments put forward as part of a second appeal, in which the claimants, among them the Puerto Rico Journalists’ Association and Overseas Press Club appealed an August 13, 2009 ruling by the Federal Court Chief Justice in Puerto Rico, José Fusté, who denied the petition on accepting the FBI submission that the attack on the journalists by its agents was not unreasonable. The attack dates back to February 2006 and the courts continue to hold it to be legitimate. On September 15 an act of censorship was produced in the State Elections Commission when its chairman, Héctor Conty Pérez, ordered the removal of several pieces forming part of an exhibition of cartoons sponsored by the Puerto Rico Cartoonists’ Association. The argument was that the commission had to “defend” its “idiosyncrasy” of neutrality, which supposedly consists of not allowing in its facilities images of “current politicians,” although in fact it was trying to prevent caricatures of some politician from the governing party.