Report to the Midyear Meeting
April, 19-22 2022
During the debate and approval of the reforms to the electoral law in the National Assembly, the journalistic associations claimed that there should be freedom of journalistic coverage during the electoral periods. For now, fines have increased up to US$ 25,000 for media that violates the electoral prohibition period.

In November, after several complaints about the use of drug money in politics, the president of the National Assembly, Crispiano Adames Navarro, said that spurious money has infiltrated the campaign "as it has infiltrated the media..." Later, in response to a complaint from the National Council of Journalism, Navarro expressed that he did not intend to accuse any specific sector of society.

The Public Prosecutor's Office, which had brought charges against Mauricio Valenzuela - journalist of the digital media Foco Panamá - after an accusation by the pro-government congresswoman Zulay Rodríguez for "gender violence" (2020) regarding a journalistic investigation, requested the dismissal of the proceedings against the journalist.

The law makes it impossible for officials to file criminal complaints for slander and libel - in order to avoid persecution of media and journalists.

Judicial claims against Corporación La Prensa for US$ 48 million regarding 13 civil lawsuits for damages - slander and libel - and 5 criminal cases dating from 2006 and 2010 are still pending. Among them a civil lawsuit for alleged damages to his reputation filed by former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares in 2012 against Corporación La Prensa - which is pending a decision in the first instance. As a result of this process, the media company has had its bank accounts and assets frozen for US$ 1.13 million.

Several journalistic associations have held meetings with the attorney general, Javier Caraballo; the attorney for the Administration, Rigoberto González Montenegro and the board of directors of the Supreme Court of Justice - made up by justices María Eugenia López, Carlos Vásquez Reyes and Olmedo Arrocha - to express their concern for the following issues: That slander and libel continue to be of criminal jurisdiction. That there are no limits on the amounts for civil lawsuits and injunctions for alleged moral damages. That the injunctions (freezing) of assets or property owned by the media (press, digital and users of social networks) affect their operation or generate self-censorship. That unclear arguments about alleged crimes such as gender violence, political violence and child abuse are used to prosecute journalists or citizens.

In the civil area, the legislation allows that in the event of a lawsuit for damages, the plaintiff - without a ruling in his favor - may seek the freezing of assets of the sued media.

Due to this, several media and professional associations of the sector are drafting a bill to decriminalize the crimes of slander and libel and to incorporate the concept of actual malice.

The Judicial Branch (judge Baloisa Marquínez) set the hearing date between May 19 and 23, for the case known as "New Business" - based on information sent by the National Assembly - regarding the acquisition of the publishing group EPASA (which publishes the newspapers Panamá-América and Crítica) by its current owners.

After the investigation of the former president of the group, Ricardo Chanis, it was found that the company was acquired by former president Ricardo Martinelli and his close associates. The Public Prosecutor's Office summoned 25 people to trial - among them Martinelli - all investigated for the alleged crime of money laundering.

It was surprising to learn that during the investigation they were able to recover US$ 9.2 million in shares (30% of the group) - which were transferred to the National Treasury. However, the process was delayed due to a request for the granting of "electoral privilege" in favor of Martinelli - which was approved by the Electoral Tribunal. After more than four and a half years of investigation, the Supreme Court of Justice is expected to issue a resolution.

A draft bill intends to modify Law 22 of 2005, related to the right to reply. The proposal seeks to shorten the period granted to comply with this right to 24 hours. Currently the period is 48 hours - extendable to 72 hours. It also increases the fines for infringement - which would jeopardize the feasibility of the media.
The Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), based in Panama, has not yet rejected the project presented by the Ecuadorian legislator Octavio Villacreces. The bill is a Communications Framework Law that establishes control mechanisms by the State over media content.