At the mid-year meeting of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA), the report on the situation of the media and communicators in Panama was presented.
During the debate and the approval of the reforms to the electoral law in the National Assembly, the journalistic unions claimed that there should be freedom for journalistic coverage during the electoral processes. For now, the fines have been increased by up to 25,000 dollars to the media that violates the electoral ban period.
In November, after several complaints about the use of money from drug trafficking in politics, the president of the National Assembly, Crispiano Adames Navarro, said that spurious money had infiltrated the campaign “as they have infiltrated the media…” Then Before a complaint from the National Council of Journalism, Navarro stated that he did not intend to accuse any specific sector of society.
The Public Ministry, which had charged charges against Mauricio Valenzuela, a journalist with the digital media Foco Panama, after an accusation by the ruling deputy Zulay Rodríguez for “gender violence” (2020) over a journalistic investigation, requested the communicator’s dismissal.
The law makes it impossible for officials to file criminal complaints for slander and libel, with the intention of avoiding persecution of the media and journalists.
Judicial claims amounting to $48 million dollars against the La Prensa Corporation in 13 civil suits for damages claims for slander and libel, and 5 criminal cases dating from 2006 and 2010, are still pending. Among them, is pending of decision in the first instance a civil proceeding for alleged damages to his reputation filed by former President Ernesto Pérez Balladares in 2012 against Corporación La Prensa. Due to this process, a kidnapping of their bank accounts and assets for 1.13 million dollars weighs on the media.
Various journalistic associations have held meetings with the attorney general, Javier Caraballo; the attorney for the Administration, Rigoberto González Montenegro, and the board of directors of the Supreme Court of Justice, made up of magistrates María Eugenia López, Carlos Vásquez Reyes and Olmedo Arrocha, to express their concern about the following points: that slander and insult remains under criminal jurisdiction; that there are no limits on the amounts for civil lawsuits and precautionary measures for alleged moral damages; that the precautionary measures (kidnapping) of assets and/or goods owned by the media (press, digital and social network users) affect their operation or that they generate self-censorship;that confusing arguments are used about alleged crimes such as gender violence,
In the civil sphere, the legislation the plaintiff, allows without a ruling in his favor, to promote the freezing of media assets when faced with a lawsuit for damages.
Due to this, several media outlets and unions in the sector are drafting a bill to decriminalize the crimes of slander and insults and incorporate the concept of actual malice.
The Judicial Branch (Judge Baloisa Marquínez) set a hearing from May 19 to 23, for the case known as “New Business”, based on information sent by the National Assembly on the acquisition of the publishing group EPASA (which publishes the newspapers Panamá- America and Review) by its current owners.
After the investigation of the former president of the Ricardo Chanis group, it was learned that the company was acquired by former president Ricardo Martinelli and his relatives. The Public Ministry called 25 people to trial, including Martinelli, investigated for the alleged commission of the crime of money laundering.
It was surprising to learn that during the investigation it was possible to recover 9.2 million dollars in shares (30% of the group), which were remitted to the National Treasury. However, the process was subject to a delay due to a request for the application of “electoral jurisdiction” in favor of Martinelli, which was granted by the Electoral Court. After more than four and a half years of investigation, the Supreme Court of Justice is expected to issue a resolution.
A preliminary project intends to modify Law 22 of 2005, related to the right to reply. The proposal seeks to shorten the term granted to comply with that right to 24 hours. Currently the period is 48 hours, extendable to 72. The amount of fines for infractions is also increased, which would put the viability of the media at risk.
The Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), based in Panama, has not yet dismissed the project presented by the Ecuadorian assemblyman Octavio Villacreces. The project is a Communications Framework Law that establishes control mechanisms by the State over the contents of the media.