The presidents of the Puerto Rico Interactive Advertising Bureau and the Overseas Press Club added their voices to the growing chorus of criticism against a resolution the Mayagüez municipal government approved last week to monitor social media networks to track those expressing their disapproval of the administration’s work.
In separate statements issued Monday, the trade groups blasted the measure as an attempt at censorship, agreeing it challenges the constitutional right to free speech.
“Based on an alleged defense of the image of the municipality and its officials, the Mayor of Mayagüez and his municipal legislature are trying to censor those who criticize their work,” said OPC President Milly Méndez. “[Mayor José Guillermo] Rodríguez must remember that precisely because he is a public figure, he is exposed to criticism and there is no way to control it. That would upset the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”
The OPC represents journalists and communications professionals in Puerto Rico, both in traditional and digital media.
“Journalists in Puerto Rico are alert, not just to criticize, but to fight the intentions of those seeking to destroy the rights the Constitution guarantees to all citizens,” said Méndez, noting that social networks represent a forum for citizens to express themselves on the core issues being debated on the island and also stressed that “journalists make use of these cyber assets as a tool to inform their readers.”
On Feb. 16, the Mayagüez municipal government approved the Resolution 102, a three-page document “authorizing the Mayagüez Mayor to contract research, legal and other services necessary specializing in the use and regulation of social networks that could be used maliciously, publishing false accusations which can lacerate the good name and image of the Mayagüez municipal Government, its officers, officials and employees, and for other purposes.”
Since going public, the resolution has been likened to the failed “Stop Online Piracy Act,” which sought to fight online copyright and intellectual property infringement. It has also drawn sharp criticism from members of Rodríguez’s Popular Democratic Party peers.
Meanwhile, IABPR President Ernesto González-Torres also expressed his organization’s opposition to any attempt to censor any form of communication, but “especially the increasingly important interactive communication through social networks and the web in general.”
“Interactive communication in Puerto Rico is increasing every day and is growing rapidly,” González said.
Citing a study the IABPR commissioned last year on the use of social networks in Puerto Rico, 71.7 percent of interviewees visit them every day.
“But the use of the Internet is broader still. In fact, advertising in this medium reached $13 billion worldwide last year and it is estimated to have grown by 40 percent of the total advertising market, including in Puerto Rico,” he said.
The IABPR will be looking into the legal aspects of the position adopted by the Mayagüez municipal government saying it goes against the island’s Constitution, he said.
“We believe that a municipal ordinance can not go against the Constitution of Puerto Rico or of the U.S.,” González-Torres said. “So, we believe this ordinance has no legal validity. However, it is an obvious obstruction to the right to free expression.”