Puerto Rico


Report to the 75th General Assembly of the IAPA

October 4 – 7, 2019

Coral Gables, Florida

During this period the media and journalists were attacked and the public was denied information, whereas the government passed legislation that hinders and delays the right to access to public information.

At the political level, several members of the governmental cabinet were arrested on corruption charges. Scandals of maladministration, coupled with the leaking of a "chat" involving high-ranking government officials - including Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares - forced the resignation of the governor and that of many of his assistants and associates. The leaking of the communications between the governor and members of his cabinet arose after inquiries and reports by the press. However, it was the 12-day mass protests that prompted Rosselló's resignation on July 24.

In his last action as governor, Rosselló signed into law House and Senate Bills 1095 and 236, despite protests and warnings from the media about the consequences. The "Law of Transparency and Expeditious Procedure for Access to Public Information" (Law 141-2019), and the "Law of Open Data of the Government of Puerto Rico" (Law 122-2019), came into force with effects contrary to what their titles try to uphold - adding barriers and obstacles to the access to public information by journalists and citizens.

The transparency law allows the government to postpone the delivery of public documents for about two months, while the data law created an Internet portal through the Puerto Rico Innovation and Technology Service (PRITS) to publish information, but does not propose any method or system to request public documents other than those published in the portal. It also expands the exceptions to the obligation to disclose public information and the definition of what constitutes confidential information.

The oversight role of the press was highlighted by an investigation that began in 2018. A federal grand jury issued an 18-count indictment against three individuals - including the executive director of the Senate Office of Government Affairs - for allegedly creating a scheme of "ghost" employees (or contractors) as part of a system of corruption and diversion of public funds.

There is a legal route to - in a relatively quick process - force the release of public information. It is important to note that each year organizations and individuals sue the government to force the release of information that is withheld or protected. So much so that one trial judge expressed in open court that the government's practice of forcing the press to go to court "has become a norm, a habit."

Recently, the Supreme Court had under its consideration a case for damages, violation of constitutional rights, harassment, persecution and libel filed against various media by Ana Cacho González, for the media coverage of the suspicious death of her 10-year-old son in 2010 and the subsequent investigation of the case. The Supreme Court ruled that the case was partially time-barred.

The Experimental Program for the Use of Photographic Cameras and Audiovisual Dissemination Equipment by the Media is still in force. Although it represents an advance for the digital and immediate coverage of certain judicial processes, it still presents challenges for the press because judges can apply the rule in an unequal or arbitrary manner - since permits are granted on a case-by-case basis.

A number of media organizations - including GFR Media - have petitioned the Supreme Court to allow the press access to certain judicial proceedings of high public interest and, for the most part, have been approved, despite the fact that commentators and lawyers often argue that press access impairs the defendant's right to a fair trial.