This is the time of the year when we, journalists in Puerto Rico, celebrate our week. A necessary formality so that, through events, we educate the public about our role and reflect, as a group, on the transformations in the profession and the ethical principles that should guide us in a world in which technological changes are constant. It’s also a good opportunity to take advantage of each forum we attend to demand transparency from the government of Puerto Rico and the United States, as well as from for-profit and nonprofit organizations.
One of the biggest challenges that those of us who practice journalism in Puerto Rico have is the lack of periodic publication of data by the three branches of government. Likewise, for-profit, and nonprofit corporate entities considered themselves exempt from accountability, especially those that receive public funds through contracts, incentives, or donations that come from our taxes. Or simply because they must respond to their clientele.
If it wasn’t already difficult to practice journalism given the refusal to provide the required data in a timely manner, the repeated strategy of agency heads and some lawmakers and mayors of not giving interviews, of not offering reactions, or of assuming that their statements should always be in writing, preclude us from asking follow-up questions to their statements or responses.
Meanwhile, the judiciary remains distant as if it really believes it has no one to answer to. Its officials take advantage of the much-needed judicial independence as an excuse so that, among other things, we do not find out when one of its members whose ethical conduct is under suspicion is questioned. The system does not allow us to know about the process of a complaint until the gods, I mean the judges, reveal their intentions.
It is increasingly common to read or hear that the secretary or executive director of this or that agency did not want to react to a matter of high public interest. And it’s not that the strategy of blocking interviews is new, but it stopped being an isolated behavior to become practically the norm to try to hide their personal or vicarious incompetence.
But this bad practice not only has that goal, but we must also think of it as a probable strategy of some press officials with serious conflicts due to having multiple contracts with several agencies, private entities, and even with politicians and parties at the same time. They may see making the interview difficult or withholding information necessary to protect one of their other clients.
The worst thing is that such secretaries or executive directors do not receive any reprimand from their boss, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi, for breaking the law and not being accountable to the people of Puerto Rico. After all, the responsibility of not reacting falls on the administration of the current governor, just as it falls directly on any mayor or legislator who is not accountable.
When an agency secretary does not want to issue a reply, journalists must tell the exact truth: that the Pierluisi administration, through its secretary, did not want to provide the information or interview requested. The Governor cannot escape his responsibility. Likewise, I think that, as part of the transparency with which we must inform, every time the information is not provided to us in a timely manner, we must reveal the name of the press official of the legislative branch, the agency, or municipality, or even remind readers the amount of their government contract or salary.
Every time we publish that they don’t want to reveal information, our readers must know that from January 2021 to the present, more than $208 million in contracts for public relations, advertising, and press officers have been paid for, as the song says, for nothing or almost nothing. “which is not the same but it’s identical.”