Washington, D.C., April 8, 2020 — Puerto Rican authorities should guarantee that journalists can cover the COVID-19 pandemic without fear of government retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez signed an amendment to the island’s Public Security law on April 6 making it illegal for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information” relating to government proclamations or executive orders concerning COVID-19 or other disasters, according to the order and news reports.
“A state of emergency should not be an excuse for Puerto Rican authorities to suspend press freedom,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “It is essential that media organizations and journalists are allowed to report freely on matters of public importance like COVID-19 without fear of retaliation from the government in the form of fines or criminal charges for coverage that it may not like.”
Those convicted under the amended law will face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000, according to the order. If the false information causes more than $10,000 worth of public-sector expenditure or leads to the damage of physical property, it will be considered a criminal offense, according to the amendment and those news reports.
CPJ called, texted, and emailed Mariana Cobian, the governor’s spokeswoman, for comment, but did not receive any replies to questions about the law.