Decorum Departs IAPA's Puerto Rican Meeting p.24

By: Robert U. Brown Curious blackout traps delegates in elevators as governor attacks report saying he harassed a paper by pulling ads in response to critical coverage

THE REPORT OF an international committee sent by the Inter American Press Association to investigate the Puerto Rican governor's alleged press harassment caused some excitement and fireworks at the IAPA's mid-winter meeting in San Juan.
After three days of meetings in January, the five-member committee, headed by IAPA's Freedom of the Press Committee chairman, agreed that the withdrawal of advertising ? said to be about $6 million ? from San Juan's El Nuevo D?a was a discriminatory abuse of power in retaliation for news coverage. The committee also said pressures had been applied to journalists, preventing open access to information.

Gov. Pedro Rossello did not take it lying down. Appearing before IAPA ? with the largest attendance at a mid-year meeting ? to give the usual welcoming speech, along with a Chamber of Commerce pitch on the beauties of the island, Rossello accused IAPA of insulting Puerto Ricans. While he represents citizens, he asserted he had been called a dictator, a statement the committee denied. The governor asked IAPA to stop insulting an entire group of people.

During country-by-country reports on the state of the press, the debate on Puerto Rico was interrupted by a complete blackout of the meeting room ? along with sound and translation systems. The lights were restored by emergency power sources, and the meeting continued when President Oliver Clarke of Jamaica called for a closing of the ranks with louder voices. Regular power was restored an hour later but the hotel gambling casino was closed, as were several elevators, where some IAPA delegates were trapped for 40 minutes.
Rumors spread as to the cause but a hotel spokesman was later quoted saying the outage was caused by crossed wires in the hotel electric meter. Picketers supporting the governor and condemning El D?a demonstrated outside the hotel for three days.
At the concluding session, IAPA's board of directors rejected the governor's accusation that IAPA had insulted the Puerto Rican people by denouncing the government's attacks on journalism.

The meeting passed a resolution endorsing
the work of its delegation and urged the gover-
nor to end the ugly campaign of harassment
and coercion against El D?a and other news
media and to cease hounding and pressuring journalists. It also urged the government to allocate advertising among media without regard to news reports.
Representatives of the Overseas Press Club of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican Journalists Association gave lengthy testimonials confirming a pattern of coercion and harassment by the government against reporters from El D?a and other news organizations.
El Nuevo D?a has
filed suit in federal dis-trict court against the
governor and other officials to force them to place official advertising on a nondiscriminatory basis.
?(Pedro Rossello, governor of Puerto Rico, attacked a report critical of his dealings with newspapers as an insult to the Puerto Rican people.) [Caption & Photo]
?(E&P Web Site:
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 28, 1998) [Caption]


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