PANAMA In Panama there is freedom of the press and the right to access and distribution of information on political subjects. However, laws to restrict freedom of the press and control the flow of information that were passed and applied during the dictatorship remain in effect. While these laws have not been invoked in the last four years, their existence is a potential danger that concerns journalists and human rights organizations. On the other hand, in the past year certain things have occurred that show a growing intolerance toward the free exercise of journalism. These include frequent threats and verbal and physical attacks on reporters and columnists. Following are the most important events: January 7 - Security agents used their weapons to intimidate journalists seeking information from the Attorney General's office. June 20 - A Channel 13 cameraman was struck by police agents as he attempted to cover a police raid. His video equipment was destroyed. A little later, a La Prensa photographer and a Channel 4 cameraman also were assaulted by agents of the Institutional Protection Service (the public security agency) as they covered a crime scene. September 13 - The director of the Institutional Protection Service assaulted two Critica Libre reporters in a Panama City restaurant. On two occasions an Estrella de Panama columnist was assaulted by persons who were upset by what he had written. The president and publisher of El Siglo was jailed for five days after being held in contempt of court allegedly for being insulting to a judge and failing to show respect in court. The sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court several months later. The executive sought asylum in the Costa Rican Embassy but was turned down because he was not being punished for a political crime. He then voluntarily surrendered to authorities. The Panamanian Radio Broadcasting Association has complained to the Transportation and Communications Committee of the Legislative Assembly that government authorities assign radio frequencies in an illegal and arbitrary manner. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that ordered the return of property confiscated from Editora Panama America S.A., canceled mortgages issued to those who had no right to have them, and ordered the government to payoff employees of Editora Renovación, the company the military used to oust Editora Panama America from its property. The government accepted the decision. July 12-30 representatives of the Central American press, radio and television, at a meeting in New Orleans sponsored by the Central American Journalism Program, approved a Declaration of Principles of Central American Journalism. September 15 - Members of the Journalists Forum for Freedom of Expression and Information publicly endorsed a Code of Ethics and asked all journalists to adopt it. Legal limitations to free exercise of journalism include such things as a 1978 law that permits the Justice Ministry to impose fines and jail terms and even shut down news organizations. Another 1978 law requires journalists to be licensed. Licenses are granted to those who meet the requirements of the law as determined by the Technical Council on Journalism named by the Ministry of Justice. Two years ago, the government issued a decree naming members to the Council but the immediate and vigorous reaction against the act led to revocation of the decree. Also of concern are criminal libel and injury laws that do not specify degrees of guilt or negligence and carry stiffer penalties when the offended party is a public official. Another concern involves ambiguously-worded laws establishing the so-called crimes against the national economy, and with some parts of the Administrative Code in effect since 1917 that were applied by the dictatorship to stop the distribution of several dailies. The efforts to overturn these laws has failed in part because of journalists who prefer to keep the licensing system but mainly because of the absence of a clear political will in the legislative and executive branches of government to decide what should be done with them.