Resolution of the 71th General Assembly
Charleston, South Carolina
October 2 – 6, 2015
WHEREAS a proposed law "to regulate the professional career of journalists and news photographers in Panama" was submitted to the Panamanian National Assembly on July 29, 2015
WHEREAS this proposed law was submitted by Juan Bautista Moya, a deputy for the governing party who belongs to the ruling coalition that holds a majority in the National Assembly
WHEREAS this proposed law contains provisions ranging from the unncessary to those that pose grave threats to freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and freedom of the press, restricting rights that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 19), the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 13), and the Panamanian Constitution (Article 37)
WHEREAS this proposed law calls for the mandatory membership of journalists in professional associations, requiring them to obtain the "certificate of professional accreditation" and to be a "member of two professional journalism organizations"
WHEREAS the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has weighed in on this matter in the following terms: "[T]he compulsory licensing of journalists is incompatible with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights if it denies any person access to the full use of the news media as a means of expressing opinions or imparting information" (San José, Costa Rica, November 13, 1985)
WHEREAS this proposed law calls for a penalty of "two to five years in prison" for illegally practicing the profession of journalism.
WHEREAS this proposed law calls for the formation of a "disciplinary tribunal" whose duties will include "assessing penalties called for in the Code of Ethics, up to and including the suspension of the professional license," i.e., a ban on working as a journalist
WHEREAS this proposed law would create a Code of Ethics for Journalism Professionals, which would be administered and updated by the Academic Technical Commission for Journalism, with no democratic body having any input on this code of ethics. The law would also call for any appeals of the decisions of the "disciplinary tribunal" to be settled "before the Interior Ministry," leaving the final decision (on the right to work as a journalist) to a political official of the administration in power at the time
WHEREAS this proposed law, among other provisions, erroneously describes political cartoonists as news photographers, although their work consists in expressing an editorial opinion to denounce, through the use of humor and sarcasm, situations involving a broad range national or international developments, thereby making this law a type of prior restraint on the work of political cartoonists
WHEREAS the president of the Inter American Press Association and the chairman of the IAPA's Freedom of the Press and Information Committee sent a joint letter to the Panamanian president expressing their deep concern over this proposed law, and no formal response has been received thus far
WHEREAS at this year's Midyear Meeting of the IAPA, held in Panama City, the president of Panama signed the Declaration of Chapultepec and ratified his commitment to press freedom and freedom of expression.
WHEREAS Principle 2 of the Declaration of Chapultepec states: "Every person has the right to seek and receive information, express opinions and disseminate them freely. No one may restrict or deny these rights."
THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE IAPA RESOLVES
To urge the Panamanian government, and especially the president of Panama, to do everything possible to ensure that this proposed law is set aside
To urge the speaker of Panama's National Assembly and other legislators to defend freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of information and to carry out the efforts needed to ensure that the proposed law "to regulate the professional career of journalists and news photographers in Panama" is definitively set aside
To call on all media outlets in the region to remain vigilant to future developments and to any similar initiatives aimed at undermining freedom of expression and freedom of the press.