25 March 2014
Some officials have remained hostile to freedom of the press during this period, as evidenced in the discriminatory treatment of the media and in restrictions on freedom of information. From the Office of the President to ministers and legislators, the authorities repeatedly refer to various media outlets as “opposition papers” or “opposition outlets.” This stigmatization creates risks for journalists. There is concern over civil lawsuits brought against media outlets by individuals or entities close to the government, seeking compensation for alleged harm. The damages sought are disproportionate and would serve to constrain press freedom. A number of media outlets are having difficulties accessing public information or getting government employees to answer their questions. The electoral process at the national level has led to a proliferation of dirty campaigning. These campaigns have been denounced and condemned by various entities, including the Church and the National Justice and Peace Commission, which have pushed for the signing of an electoral ethics code. This electoral season has featured undue bias in the discretionary placement of government advertising, as occurred with the newspapers La Prensa and Mi Diario, which complained that government advertising was withdrawn from them three years ago.. This is cause for concern for entities such as the social security administration, which must maintain its independence and autonomy. In the current election season, the campaign for the candidate of the ruling-party coalition complained that its television spots were not being aired even though they were paid for by the coalition parties. Television stations have said that the amount of advertising time reserved by the government and the political parties makes it impossible to devote any more airtime to advertising. On February 28, 2014, Security Minister José Raúl Maulino ordered that the media be denied access to the information generated by his ministry, including procurement activity and administrative matters, on the grounds of national security. On March 18, Judge Alexis Ballesteros of the Fourth Criminal Circuit Court of Panama was asked for his resignation for accepting an appeal filed by La Prensa newspaper. Ballesteros said that his resignation was requested for failing to “follow instructions” and dismissing the case in which five workers of Transcaribe Trading, S.A. were being prosecuted for blocking access to Corporación La Prensa on August 2 and 3, 2012—an action carried out by a construction firm whose owner is close to the Panamanian president. The head of the election oversight board, Eduardo Peñaloza, whose performance is widely questioned, has requested that the national Office of the Attorney General investigate what he claims is the violation of his privacy by La Prensa and Mi Diario. These newspapers have reported on the questions surrounding Peñaloza’s office for its inefficacy in fulfilling its constitutionally and legally mandated duty to ensure legitimacy in the electoral process. On March 18, Peñaloza berated a reporter of La Prensa who, along with a journalist, was waiting for him to exit the offices of the election oversight board in order to obtain a statement and photograph. It should be noted that, like other senior administration officials, the head of the election oversight board has always refused to give statements to or answer the questions of La Prensa and Mi Diario.