Puerto Rico

Report to the 74th General Assembly
Oct 19 to 22
Salta, Argentina
Access to public information, access by the public and the press to judicial proceedings, as well as matters concerning the right to be forgotten, were the problems that affected press freedom during this period.

There is no law on transparency or the production of public data. The rights of access to public information have been set by the highest court with some ambivalences or restrictions. Under pressure from multiple groups, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares proposed a bill on transparency applicable to all branches of government that had the backing of the press and journalists' unions. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives, but has not been discussed in the Senate. The Senate has proposed its own "open data" law that has multiple problems, and only applies to the Executive Branch. The House – after substantial amendments, approved the Senate measure, but then abruptly withdrew it.

Four cases were highlighted in this period.

The Supreme Court resolved the case of Bhatia Gautier vs. Rosselló Nevares which had been initiated by a minority senator against the governor requesting information from the Government on the Fiscal Plan to be submitted to the Financial Supervision and Administration Board. The Court decided against the senator and favored the government who argued "executive privilege" or "official information." Through this privilege, the Government can claim the confidentiality of communications between the Governor and his advisors.

In another case, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) sued the Financial Supervision and Administration Board for the handing over of documents and information. The Board argued that it is a federal agency not subject to the laws of Puerto Rico and refused to handover the documents. The Federal District Court concluded that the Board did not have immunity from claims such as that of the CPI and was subject to the right of access to local public information.

On July 23, the nonprofit organization Open Spaces sued the director of the Authority for Public and Private Partnerships – affiliated to the Central Office for Recovery and Reconstruction, for the handing over of a Spanish version of the proposals for the recovery of the island following Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The Government agreed to translate the document into Spanish.

For its part, in February the CPI sued the director of the Demographic Registry for refusing to provide public information on the deaths after Hurricane Maria. The organization requested death certificates, burial permits and cremation permits issued from September 18, 2017 until the most recent date. In June, a court ruled in favor of the CPI and the international news network CNN en Español – another of the plaintiffs, and ordered the government to provide the requested information.

Regarding the right to be forgotten, the courts have not expressed themselves definitively as to its provenance, however, the GFR Media group continues to receive multiple requests from individuals claiming their right.

There is no permanent general right for the press to transmit ongoing legal proceedings on television, radio or the internet. The Experimental Program for the Use of Cameras and Audiovisual Equipment for Media Broadcasting (PECAM) continues to be in force – allowing a judge to determine in which case to permit digital and immediate coverage of a trial.