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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senator: Panel’s faulty rejection of bill a missed opportunity for broader press protections

Sen. Joanne Rodríguez Veve

By The Star Staff

The Senate Judiciary Committee has rejected legislation that would prevent the government or private entities from forcing journalists to reveal their sources or punishing them for refusing to show them, according to a statement Wednesday.

Penned by Sen. Joanne Rodríguez Veve, Senate Bill (SB) 734, the “Law for the Protection of Journalistic Sources,” would make it the law that reporters in Puerto Rico, as well as the media, cannot be forced by the government or private entities to reveal the identity of any of their sources of information, nor are they penalized for refusing to disclose them.

The bill creates specific causes of action in protection against retaliation. On Feb. 2, 2022, several senators from the Popular Democratic Party delegation introduced SB 743, which sought to create the reporter/source privilege within the Puerto Rico Rules of Evidence. The Senate approved SB 743 on Aug. 15.

Subsequently, on Feb. 16 of this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee submitted a report on SB 734, declining to recommend the approval of Rodríguez Veve’s bill.

The report said that when the Senate passed SB 743 on the creation of the evidentiary privilege, SB 734 became moot.

A single reading of the two bills shows that the committee’s determination needs to be corrected because SB 734 was not redundant as its protections for reporters are broader, Rodríguez Veve said.

In any case, they were complementary measures since the approval of the first did not make the second moot, but rather the second strengthened and expanded the rights recognized in SB 743, she added.

“The source/journalist protection created by Senate Bill 743 would only apply when there is a case before the courts, leaving it under the discretion of the judge, on a caseby-case basis, the recognition of this privilege of evidence,” Rodríguez Veve said. “On the other hand, my bill, Senate Bill 734, constituted special and comprehensive legislation on the rights and obligations that journalists and the media would have with their sources, created specific causes of action against retaliation, and established specific remedies before the government or private entities that sought to force the journalist or media outlet to reveal the identity of the source.”

“I believe that the determination of the Judiciary Committee was completely wrong and that the Senate lost an opportunity to establish true protections, broadly and clearly, for the exercise of freedom of the press in Puerto Rico,” Rodríguez Veve said.

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