57th General Assembly Washington, DC October 12 – 16, 2001 PANAMA While the government has been long on promises to repeal legislation abridging the freedom of speech and of the press, nothing tangible has been achieved so far. The two commissions appointed nearly two years ago to propose two bills on journalistic practice and grounds for criminal and civil liability have been unable to reach even the bare minimum consensus needed to draft the bills. Quite simply, the positions of the government officials and the majority of the media representatives serving on the commissions were irreconcilable. Even so, a number of bills on journalistic practice were introduced in the Legislative Assembly that are just as restrictive, if not more so, than those already on the books. The same was true of a bill on the right of reply. Fortunately, none of these bills was debated the three times mandated by the constitution. Because they did not pass during the legislature in which they were introduced, they cannot be debated in the current legislature without being re-introduced. Official harassment of journalists continues. Criminal charges and civil complaints have proliferated against journalists viewed as foes by public officials, providing a pretext for the office of the government attorney and the courts to issue frequent summonses, conduct interrogations and investigations and take other completely irrelevant judicial steps. One case that caused something of a stir was that of La Cáscara News, a sporadic publication with a small circulation, which published a ridiculous photomontage on its front page that featured the heads of the president and a cabinet minister pasted on top of nude bodies engaging in highly intimate contact. The authorities’ reaction was immediate and excessive. The senior managers of the publication were arrested without any semblance of due process. Fortunately, the Supreme Court corrected the error and declared the arrest illegal. Transparency International in Panama has drafted a bill on free access to public information, which apparently has garnered consensus among majority and opposition lawmakers and may become law in the near future, thereby eliminating many of the obstacles to information access in nearly all matters of public interest. Finally, the case against José Otero, a journalist for the newspaper La Prensa who was indicted for publishing the name of an investigator working on a diploma forgery case, has been dismissed as a result of a presidential pardon. The journalist did nothing more than publish the name he had been given by the prosecutor in charge of the investigation.