Report to the 74th General Assembly
Oct 19 to 22
Salta, Argentina
In this period there was an increase noted in legal proceedings against news media and journalists, and verbal attacks on social media.

In recent amendments to the Electoral Code there was a modification of the rule that established prohibition of media to disseminate opinion polls during electoral processes. The rule set a period of 10 days, which has now been extended to 20 calendar days, prior to elections. This ruling violates the principles of freedom of expression and citizens' right to access to information. The action was sued as being unconstitutional in proceedings lodged by Televisora Nacional TVN television and currently pending is the ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice.

There remains in effect in Article 195 of the Penal Code the categorization of libel and defamation when these are committed through news media and while this has not been charged when the "supposed victim" is an official with national mandate and jurisdiction it remains in force for citizens, the rest of officials and former officials. Several former officials have used this rule to criminally charge journalists.
Guilds are insisting on the decriminalization of the offenses of calumny and libel and that limits on civil lawsuits be established.

The Electoral Tribunal in the general elections and internal proceedings of the political parties continues to promote the signing of the Digital Ethics Pact, which seeks that there be respect for the electrical ban on social media to prevent dirty campaigns, avoid the use of false accounts and "bots" (computer programs) to misinform or maliciously guide the electorate, to promote the good use of social media and to be vigilant to the appearance of false news.

Editora Panamá América (EPASA) publishing company has complained of a campaign of intimidation by the government. The Attorney General's Office continues to hold investigations called "New Business" based on information provided by the Chamber of Deputies. EPASA considers that these investigations seek to intimidate the newspapers Panamá-América and Crítica, in reprisal for reports concerning cases of corruption.

In April journalist Álvaro Alvarado filed a criminal complaint against Ricardo Maestre after being threatened on Instagram with a message saying "Take care, they're going to kill you." The results of the investigation into this complaint are not known.

In June, during the transfer of former president Ricardo Martinelli to the El Renacer prison following his extradition to Panama, cameramen Christopher Núñez and Lenín Ramos and motorcycle-riding Stephan Valdespino of Telemetro and Jhonny Urrutia of TVN were detained by units of the National Police, preventing them from continuing with their work.

There is underway the first debate in the National Assembly of bill number 665 "Of Protection of Personal Data." While it seeks to adopt rules on cyber crime and the protection of personal data, the Panamanian Institute of Law and New Technology (Ipandetec) has called on the authorities not to pass laws that put at risk human rights and fundamental freedoms.

There continues to be suspended discussion on the bill for a Law on Cyber Crime proposed by the Attorney General's Office which contains several rules that would affect the practice of journalism and the unfettered use of sources.

Congressman Sergio Gálvezin on repeated occasions has attacked journalist Álvaro Alvarado of Corporación Medcom company and its owners, describing it as "blackmailer, extortionist, thief, miscreant" and accusing it of carrying out a negative campaign against the National Assembly.
Journalists Delfia Cortez, Icar Reyes of TVN and Flor Mizrachic also suffered attacks verbally and on social media.

This kind of aggressions came from public officials and citizens, on occasion from Panama's President, who called on the media to publish good news about his administration.

To the verbal harassment is added concern for legal actions against journalists and media.

In August criminal charges against female journalists Mariela Ledzma and Annette Planelis were filed by former president Ricardo Martinelli for the alleged offense of calumny and defamation, causing moral harm, seeking $2 million in damages. Ledzma and Planelis had made reference to cases of corruption during his administration that currently after under investigation in the Attorney General's Office.

Martinelli's wife submitted a lawsuit to the family courts against the newspaper La Prensa which seeks to order the print press, television, radio and social media to abstain from publishing the first or last names of members of the Martinelli-Linares family group.

Journalist guilds have issued a strong call on the Judicial Branch and the Attorney General's Office not to permit abuse of the institutional system in order to censor, intimidate and harass freedom of expression and of information.

For their part, the newspapers La Prensa and Mi Diario, both belonging to Corprensa, have reported on lawsuits filed by Martinelli, his family members and supporters in the criminal and civil areas with claims for indemnity for alleged damages amounting to $21 million. Additionally, members of the Cambio Democrático (Democratic Change) party founded by Martinelli, filed 26 criminal lawsuits against executives of La Prensa over an editorial. The reported total number of claims amount to $62 million.

Through a handwritten note posted on social media the former president threatened to sue La Prensa editorial board member Rodrigo Noriega, due to the publication of legal reviews concerning his court cases.

In late August television channel NEXTV Panamá and journalist Guadalupe Castillero were subject to a civil lawsuit filed by Javier Fanuco of the National Police (North Metropolis), alleging his good name was tarnished by an interview of the journalist with a former National Police officer who accused Fanuco of abuses. The civil lawsuit sought payment of damages amounting to $2 million, later reduced to $25,000.

The case gave rise to pronouncements by all the press associations and a demonstration by journalists outside the Attorney General's offices.

In the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino) based in Panama there continues pending discussion of the bill submitted by Ecuadorean member Octavio Villacreces, which seeks to enact a Communications Framework Law for Palatino member countries "on the right to free access to communication" and to establish mechanisms of control by the government to "monitor, advise and promote" concerning news media contents.