73rd General Assembly

Salt Lake City, Utah


The Electoral Tribunal is in the process of drawing up the establishment of norms for the latest amendment to the Electoral Law that will govern the 2019 general elections; there have been detected several rules that could compromise freedom of expression and the free practice of journalism, among prohibitions on the news media to issue news, interviews, reports and investigations in which candidates and political parties could be mentioned or involved.

Some of the rules of political advertising also could limit freedom of expression.

The Electoral Tribunal has shown itself to be open to dialogue with the media and press associations.

The Electoral Tribunal has proposed the signing of an Electoral Ethical Pact with news media, something that is pending.

On July 1 in his last message from the Chamber of Deputies President Juan Carlos Varela criticized the media, saying "This process of changes that we are undergoing today and which constitutes a democratic, transparent and efficient state (...) has advanced much more than what the media lets you see, as it only publishes the failures and not the Panama that we are building together".

On July 6 photographer Alexander Arosemena of La Prensa was arrested, handcuffed and taken away by the authorities while he was taking photos of the diplomatic site of the Vatican; La Prensa said that neither the photographer nor his drone had entered the perimeter of the diplomatic site. Arosemena was released some hours later.

The Attorney General's Office presented in early October a bill that sought to amend and add to articles of the Penal Code concerning "cyber crime;" it was seen that several of the proposed norms would affect the practice and use of journalism; then the Attorney General's Office withdrew them from the bill, opening up a space of conversations that will take place in coming months.

In this six-month period the Grupo Editorial GESE group (El Siglo and La Estrella de Panamá) continued to be besieged by the Department of the Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which named in the Clinton List the main shareholder of the newspapers, this despite the fact that on repeated occasions the U.S. authorities indicated that the newspapers were not the object of investigation; after an IAPA mission to deal with the matter on October 23 it was announced that the owner had freely transferred 51% of the shares of the newspaper's companies to the Fundación Publicando Historia (Publishing History Foundation), whose aim will be to continue the newspapers' operation and in which all the earnings would revert to the newspaper; this announcement having been made the OFAC unblocked the newspapers from the imposed penalties, after 17 months.

There continues to be pending a reply to the note that the IAPA sent nearly a year ago to the Director General of the National Migration Service requesting an explanation of the detention at the airport of journalist Santiago Fascetto of the newspaper Panamá-América.

The Editora Panamá-America (EPASA) editorial company on repeated occasions has complained of an intimidation campaign by the government. The Panamanian Attorney General's Office on June 26 confirmed in a press conference that it is carrying out an investigation that it called "New Business," based on information provided on February 6, 2017 by the congressman of the government party Jorge Iván Arrocha before the National Assembly in which he requested that "Ricardo Chanis, who is currently president of Grupo Epasa, be investigated". Chanis has not returned to Panama since he left the country to participate in the IAPA general assembly last year in Mexico, for actions that he considers are in violation of his constitutional rights.

On February 7, 2017 congressman Arrocha said to the National Assembly: "No matter how many things take out the Panama America, or Crítica against Jorge Iván Arrocha, every day I will give a different name and, if it is a lie, go out to deny it "

EPASA considers that these investigations seek to intimidate the newspapers Panamá-América and Crítica, due to the reports related to cases of corruption that have been published; this situation led to compliance with the decision of the IAPA to send a mission to Panama, which raised concern at the possibility of shutdown of the media that EPASA publishes; currently the investigation is pending the decision of the Judiciary whether to grant more time to the Attorney General's Office for the investigations; Panama's press associations have repeatedly urged the Attorney General's Office that these investigations be reported in detail to the people of Panama and that they be concluded rapidly, so as to not affect the newspapers' functioning.

The fiscal scope against EPASA, initiated in January 2015, for an amount of 1.7 million dollars that could amount up to 10 times more, remains unresolved.

Recently there has arisen concern about the content of Article 195 of the Panamanian Penal Code, which categorizes libel and calumny, when this is committed through news media, even though it was decriminalized when the "alleged victim" is an official with national authority and jurisdiction, and there have been recent cases in which former officials have used this norm against journalists and media bosses.

In the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), headquartered in Panama, there is pending dealing with the bill submitted by Ecuadorean member Octavio Villacreces, which seeks to enact a Communications Framework Law for Parlatino member countries "on the right to free access to communication", also seeking to establish control mechanisms on the part of the government to "monitor, warn and promote" concerning media contents.