Report to the Midyear Meeting

Panama, Panama

March 6 – 9, 2015

With the new government and an end to hostilities towards the news media there is an improved environment for the free practice of journalism. The government has also made commitments for compliance with legal requirements concerning access to public information and unrestricted respect for the privacy of people's communications.

What is noteworthy is the decision of Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela to take advantage of this IAPA meeting to sign to the Declaration of Chapultepec.

There continues pending by electoral officials the investigation and consequent punishment for dirty campaigns waged during last year's elections, denounced by such entities as the Catholic Church and the Justice and Peace Commission. Also under investigation is non-compliance with current regulations (Electoral Code) on limits to government advertising in electoral periods.

Elections have been repeated in more than 11 electoral districts as a result of the annulment of results due to the unlawful use of public resources to favor candidates supporting the government parties. Proceedings in the electoral jurisdiction wound up and now are pending in the criminal one.

Electoral District Attorney Eduardo Peñaloz, who retired from his post (taking four months of vacation), left submitted to the Public Prosecutor's Office formal complaints against the newspapers La Prensa and Mi Diario, due to the fact that they complained of the ineffectiveness of his constitutional and legal work in overseeing legitimate legal process.

Beginning on January 2 with the appointment of a new Panama Attorney General investigations have begun regarding denunciations of corruption of officials of the previous administration, from acts of embezzlement to unlawful enrichment. Many of these investigations arose from the recent trial and conviction of a former Supreme Court chief justice.

Legal proceedings are continiong against the executive secretary of the National Security Council, Alejandro Garuz, alleging aggression and preventing the filming of Journalists Union secretary general Filemón Medina in an incident in which the work of two reporters with TVN television channel was being impeded.

There remain before the courts lawsuits filed by employees of construction company Transcaribe Trading, S.A. (TCT) against Corporación La Prensa. The company's equipment was used in a blockade to prevent the circulation of newspapers that the corporation published in August 2012.

The Deputy Attorney General's Office is investigating unlawful hearings held by the National Security Council (CNS) during the previous administration. These violations of the law on privacy of communications was denounced by the current CNS executive secretary. Victims of these practices were more than 150 people, among them journalists. The investigations are currently continuing and under detention are two former CNS executive secretaries.

There continues under debate in the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), based in Panama, a bill presented by Ecuadorean Congressman Octavio Villacreces, who is seeking to enact a Communications Law for Parliament member countries "on the right to free access to communication." It is proposed to create a "Supervisory Body" and give the government mechanisms of control to "monitor, warn and promote" concerning news media content.