CPJ sends letter calling on Puerto Rico governor to respect press freedom

May 5, 2020 2:00 PM ET

Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced
Governor of Puerto Rico
63 Calle de la Fortaleza
San Juan, Puerto Rico, 00901

Sent via email

Dear Governor Vázquez,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent press freedom organization, write to express our grave concern regarding a recent amendment to Puerto Rico’s Public Security law and your administration’s antagonistic relationship with the media.

During a global pandemic, access to the latest news and analysis is more important than ever, and it is essential that journalists can deliver the news without fear of retaliation from local governments.

However, the April 6 amendment made it illegal in Puerto Rico for media outlets or social media accounts “to transmit or allow the transmission” of “false information” relating to COVID-19 or other disasters. This gives the government a dangerous capacity to prosecute journalists or news outlets.

We agree that the media should report factually, but the language in the amendment is overly broad and leaves the term “false information” open to interpretation. Around the world, we have seen similar laws against “fake news” being used to retaliate against journalists, and we are concerned that the same thing could happen in Puerto Rico.

The world looks to the United States, Puerto Rico included, as an example of how a democracy should function. We urge you to consider the implications of this amendment and the message it sends to other leaders around the world. The political party you represent, the New Progressive Party, advocates statehood for Puerto Rico; yet the recent measures you have taken against journalists seem antithetical to one of the foundations of American democracy, the free press.

Your administration has had a difficult relationship with the media. During the COVID-19 pandemic, you have a unique opportunity to work with the island’s media to keep your citizens up to date on the virus. A good first step in this process would be revising the language of the April 6 amendment against “false information” and to state publicly that you are willing to hold regular press conferences that are open to all media groups.

Sincerely,

Carlos Martinez de la Serna
Program Director
Committee to Protect Journalists