Judicial harassment remained the main threat to freedom of the press during this period.
Radio journalist Ronald Acosta Flores was sued for slander and libel by congressman Benicio Robinson, with a judicial asset seizure injunction for US$ 121,000 - as a result of comments made on his program Proyección Social, which is broadcast in the province of Chiriquí on radio 95.7. The corresponding court has ordered the mayor's office of Boquete, Chiriqui, to withhold the emoluments from a professional services contract for US$600 per month with Acosta.
The Foco digital media has been sued for slander and libel on 26 occasions since 2019. Except for six, most of these cases were provisionally or definitively closed by the Public Prosecutor's Office (MP). The media faces claims for US$ 510,000, as part of a civil suit for slander and libel. The most controversial case involves a lawsuit for "gender violence" filed by congresswoman Zulay Rodríguez against journalist Mauricio Valenzuela. Initially, protective measures were ordered in favor of the congresswoman, but the prosecutor's office later requested that the case be closed and that the journalist be dismissed.
There are 12 civil lawsuits pending against Corporación La Prensa (Corprensa) for alleged damages, slander and libel totaling US$ 44,574,000. The oldest one dates back to 2006. A civil suit for alleged damages filed by former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares in 2012 is pending a first instance decision. As a result of this process, seizure of his bank accounts and assets for US$ 1.13 million is pending. All recent criminal cases for slander and libel were provisionally or definitively closed - with the exception of five cases prior to 2010.
In the civil sphere, the legislation allows the plaintiff in a lawsuit for damages to request the freezing of the media's assets or the seizure of its administration - even if a judgment has not been handed down in its favor.
The need to eliminate the offense of libel and slander has been expressed in different forums and meetings with judicial authorities, as well as the need to establish limits to the amounts claimed in civil lawsuits, to veto the seizure of assets and the possibility of requesting a forfeiture of the claim after a period in which the case has not progressed in court.
The Attorney General proposed a legal reform to the Criminal Code that contemplates a special protection for publications of public interest or actions by former employees during the exercise of their duties. It incorporates the concept of actual malice as an evidentiary requirement for the crime of slander and libel. The media considered that the reform would be a step in the right direction - although it was considered insufficient to stop judicial harassment.
Other important developments in this period:
The National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information (ANTAI) penalized the digital media laverdadpanama.com and journalist Amanda Alvarado for allegedly violating a new data protection law. It later reconsidered and put a hold on the fine. The interpretation given by ANTAI could imply that a publication on a topic of public interest, supported with official or public documentation, could be subject to a complaint by the affected party for violating the data protection law.
As a result, the National Bar Association and the National Association of Journalists, with the support of the National Council of Journalism (CNP), prepared a draft reform to establish protections for journalism and the use of data in public documents, and in documents of public interest or in the public domain. The reform was presented to the National Assembly as a citizen's initiative on October 10.
Journalist Isaías Cedeño - from Televisora Nacional (TVN) - was the target of homophobic and denigrating attacks through videos on social networks after a critical comment on Twitter about President Laurentino Cortizo.
After a questionnaire was sent to José Gabriel Carrizo - Vice President of the Republic, a video mocking the "stupid" questions asked by journalist Rolando Rodríguez of La Prensa started circulating in WhatsApp channels. At the end of the message, he asked "How are the twins?" - in clear reference to the journalist's twin sons. Two days later, 11 Labor Ministry inspectors showed up at the offices of La Prensa. The Ministry later issued a statement claiming that these were routine inspections related to the World Day for Decent Work. The inspectors also showed up later that day at the offices of Grupo Editorial El Siglo and La Estrella.
Several media have denounced the inequitable distribution of official advertising - by both the central government and several autonomous institutions.
After more than five years of investigation, on July 5 concluded the preliminary hearing on the New Business case regarding the new owners and the acquisition of the EPASA group - which publishes the newspapers Panamá América and La Crítica. The court summoned 20 people to trial and set a preliminary hearing date for former President Ricardo Martinelli for October 31. It should be noted that the publishing house is not part of the case.