Puerto Rico

Report to the Midyear Meeting 2019
March 29 to 31
Cartagena, Colombia
In this period there was recorded an unusual ambivalence on the part of the country's branches of government. The Judicial Branch has complied with numerous petitions of the press and has permitted the live broadcast of legal proceedings never before seen by the public. But, despite the rhetoric of transparency, some media had to submit legal appeals because the government has denied providing access to public documents.

There does not exist a law that regulates the right to access to information, although there do exist several laws that define the nature of what amounts to a public document, and/or that contain rules on how to ease or restrict their access.

There continue to be obstacles and battles (within and outside the courts) regarding access to public information.

After months of requesting, in different courts, the Plan for Dealing with Emergencies applicable before Hurricane María – which battered the island on September 20, 2017 – and the same plan revised after the hurricane, as well as the current Plan of Public Health Response in Natural Disasters and Emergencies, on October 26 the Investigative Journalism Center (CPI) went to court in a lawsuit against officials. The government found itself forced to admit that the process of updating the announced operational plan for catastrophic incidents was not completed, and that the supplementary attachments with the detailed emergency plans were not ready.

In the case between the CPI v. Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico the organization presented a claim seeking access to documents, among them the communications between that body and members of Congress and federal government officials, as well as mails exchanged with the government of Puerto Rico. The Board, saying that it was a federal body not subject to the laws of Puerto Rico, refused to produce the documents. The Federal District Court for the District of Puerto Rico concluded that the Board did not have immunity for claims such as that of the CPI and that it was subject to the right to access to public information of Puerto Rico.

Despite the fact that the Federal Court ordered a handing over of the communications the Board did not comply. The CPI filed a request for there to be declared that body to be in contempt, which was partially accepted by the Federal Court.

On November 6 the not-for-profit organization Espacios Abiertos presented a mandamus petition before the San Juan Court of First Instance to have access to the report on Reduction of Taxes Agreements and other tax expenses that were prepared by the Puerto Rico government and handed over to the Board in 2017. The Court accepted the Espacios Abiertos petition and ordered the government to divulge the requested information immediately. The government for its part insisted on keeping the information secret and appealed to the Court of Appeals to prevent publication of the said information.

Finally, the CPI filed a lawsuit against the Puerto Rican Senate chairman for not handing over the list of lobbyists in that body, including the clients to whom the person or firm provided lobbying services, for the years 2017, 2018 and 2019. After multiple attempts to obtain the information the organization turned to the courts.

The courts have not definitively expressed themselves regarding the origin of the "right to oblivion." One case has given rise to discussion to require several media to eliminate information of an individual, but this was dismissed.

The Grupo Ferré-Rangel group (GFR Media) continues to receive requests from people that claim the right to oblivion, alleging that the existence of the information caused, or is causing, them harm.
There does not exist a permanent right for the press to broadcast underway legal proceedings on television, radio or the Internet. There continues in force the Experimental Program for the Use of Photographic Cameras and of Audiovisual Equipment of Dissemination by News Media ("PECAM").

The PECAM, while it represents an advance that favors digital and immediate coverage of certain legal proceedings, still presents challenges as access to the proceedings is granted on a case-by-case basis.

The Supreme Court of Puerto Rico amended Rule 15 of Judicial Ethics that imposed the duty of judges to maintain legal proceedings in an unalterable atmosphere of solemnity and respect and prior to the amendment prohibited the taking of photographs and video or audio recordings, as well as the dissemination of the legal proceedings by radio or television. The Supreme Court revoked the Rule 15 and approved a new one that allows the taking of photographs or video in the courtroom during the holding of judicial sessions or recesses, and broadcast on radio or television legal proceedings, according to what is authorized by the Supreme Court by order, ruling or norm.

The courts continue with the modernization of the Judicial Branch through the digitalization of documents in civil cases.

With effect from October 25 the Judicial Branch has put at the reach of the citizens the most recent Rulings and Final Resolutions of the Court of Appeals in an electronic form and free of charge.

The press has been the victim in the past (and at present) of attacks on the part of their governors. There has not been used the concept of "fake news" to describe certain media or journalists, however some political commentators have adopted that phrase to defend the politicians of their preference, those who have rougher relationships with the press.