Report to the Midyear Meeting

Panama, Panama

March 6 – 9, 2015

The use of official advertising to pressure the media, the lack of access to information, and the insecurity of journalists working in the interior of the country are some of the matters that have affected freedom of press in this country.

The existence of a radio and television monopoly in the hands of Angel Remigio González, who controls six channels of free television and 66 radio stations, continues to generate negative effects due to: hoarding of advertising, with the resulting impossibility of companies' advertising in other media outside that monopoly; publication of political advertising disguised as news; use of those media to set up or disseminate smear campaigns; privileges such as changes in the income tax law to exempt those television channels; changes in the law on use of the broadcast spectrum, which went from fifteen to twenty years for open television channels, radio stations and cellular telephones, and the fact that there are no new bidding processes, which makes it impossible for other persons to have access to use of the frequencies.

Official advertising is still being used as a tool to pressure the editorial line of the media, especially the print daily elPeriódico, which holds a position of open opposition and criticism of the government of Otto Pérez Molina, and has been the most affected by the denial of governmental advertising, and for the coercion brought to bear on the private sector not to use that media outlet.

Government employees have worked against journalists and shareholders of elPeriódico, using criminal means rather than the Law on Dissemination of Thought. The government has maintained a systematic policy of blocking reporters from critical media from access to high-level officials. This measure affects journalists from elPeriódico, who have even been victims of physical aggression on the part of the President's guard and that of Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

More and more journalists and the media have had to present their accreditation for coverage. This trend is being extended, unfortunately, to private events and activities.

Although the Constitution and the Law on Dissemination of Thought and international covenants protect the practice of journalism and the confidentiality of sources, prosecutors and judges demand the contribution or delivery of personal testimonies or audio and video files of journalists to be utilized as evidence in legal cases.

Two initiatives have emerged—one from an opposition legislator and one from a high dignitary of the state—to regulate opinions given on digital platforms, but they were immediately recalled due to the bad feelings and protests that they brought on.

Another initiative became known from a congressional committee to regulate voting preference polls published by newspapers, which has not yet passed.

Correspondents from media located in the provinces have adopted self-censorship as a measure of protection after suffering constant threats, either direct or veiled, from governors, mayors, or other public officials, due to their revelations in cases of corruption or opacity in their administrations.

Organized crime or criminals who operate on their own make it difficult to practice journalism freely in the provinces. There is also self-censorship when dealing with cases tied to the violent actions of groups opposing projects in the exploration or exploitation of natural resources.

Finally, in a year of electoral contention, freedom of the press is being affected by various factors. Among them is the use of advertising to reward and punish, the incursion of presidential aspirant Manuel Baldizón as a media businessman (a newspaper, magazines, cable television signal, cable television channel); aggression against independent journalists and commentators, like Juan Luis Font or Pedro Trujillo, in reprisal for their journalistic work, and the use of media connected to the present Minister of Energy and Mines, Erick Archila, to attack political rivals.