79th IAPA General Assembly, November 9 - 12, 2023, Mexico City, Mexico


The greatest threat to press freedom during this period was access to public information. Several government agencies and institutions continue to refuse to provide requested data, refuse to answer journalists' questionnaires and fail to comply with the obligation to publish public information on their websites.

In addition, in April, the Ministry of the Presidency submitted to the National Assembly (AN) a proposal to reform Law 6 of 2002, the Transparency Law, prepared by the National Authority for Transparency and Access to Information (Antai), whose initial wording would further hinder access to public information. The project was drafted without consulting journalism associations and organizations interested in transparency in public administration. The bill was withdrawn in mid-September after pressure from 57 civil associations, journalistic entities, and business associations.

In October, the National Directorate of Electoral Organization (DNOE) of the Electoral Tribunal (TE) admitted two complaints from former president and presidential candidate Ricardo Martinelli and issued two resolutions against journalist Álvaro Alvarado and against the digital media Foco and Claramente, ordering them to suspend all publications on their social networks Instagram and X that referred to the candidate. According to TE representatives, this is the process for "electoral propaganda" complaints during the ban before the 2024 electoral campaign. After a meeting coordinated by the Forum of Journalists in which the disproportion of the measure and its prior censorship effect was claimed, the TE modified the procedure to make its preliminary investigation without ordering content suspension. Since then, it will be possible to declare under oath that the journalist did not receive payment for the publications, allowing the file to be archived. Alvarado's case was dismissed after having stated under oath, but not yet those of Foco and Claramente.

Several attacks on journalists and media outlets were reported. In the province of Chiriqui, independent journalist Arexio Santos was intimidated by a school principal during a parents' protest. From the Instagram account Injusticiaspty, personal attacks were made against journalists Flor Mizrachi and Juan Manuel Diaz.

Jairo Salazar, ruling party deputy and president of the legislative commission of Municipal Affairs, stated that journalists lived attacking the representatives and mayors of the people and affirmed that they are not afraid of them and that "the economic power and the media overwhelm us with their bad information, that is why we have to go against them."

On October 19, during a protest against the approval of a contract law with a mining company, photographer and activist Aubrey Baxter, linked to the Ya es Ya group, was hit in the face and lost his right eye. Although the National Police denied responsibility, images from Baxter's camera show shots fired at very close range from what appear to be pepper balls. The Public Prosecutor's Office has opened an investigation. Subsequently, following the enactment of the contract law, public demonstrations intensified, with several journalists reporting attacks by police with pellets and others being intimidated by protesters, including the spraying of paint on recording equipment. For an hour and a half, a protest by Sindicato Único Nacional de Trabajadores de la Industria de la Construcción y Similares (SUNTRACS), the main construction union, blocked access to Corporación Medcom, which transmits the Telemetro and RPCTV channels. The union members carried banners pointing out certain journalists were "information mercenaries."

SUNTRACS, together with the teachers' union, began a campaign of harassment, discrediting and attacking journalists in Panama. These unions and other organizations have been calling for three weeks marches and protests against the government of Laurentino Cortizo and metallic mining.

During a meeting with members of the editorial board of Grupo GESE, which publishes the newspapers El Siglo and La Estrella de Panamá, former President Martinelli recommended that there should be a law in the country on the so-called "right to be forgotten," whereby after five years no publications could "exist" because the media "cannot penalize an individual for life."

Judicial harassment through the abuse of civil and criminal lawsuits continues in Panama. Congresswoman Yanibel Ábrego filed a civil suit for alleged damages for slander and libel against Corporación La Prensa (Corprensa), publisher of Mi Diario and La Prensa, for US$250 thousand, for allegedly having published false information regarding the decentralization funds and their use for political purposes. There are 12 civil lawsuits against Corprensa for alleged damages for slander and libel, with claims of up to US$ 50.7 million, all filed by politicians and civil servants or former civil servants.

A first-instance ruling applying the principle of actual malice for the first time dismissed a lawsuit for alleged damages of US$ 5.5 million against Corprensa, filed by former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares in 2012. A seizure of its bank accounts and assets for US$ 1.13 million still hangs over the media.

A judgment for US$ 505,000 against Corprensa in a case of alleged violation of the right of image in the publication of a collectible album, inserted free of charge in the newspaper, with biographical content of boxer Roberto "Mano de Piedra" Durán, is being appealed in the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). The sentence has been considered disproportionate to the project amount, which had revenues of US$ 20,000 and costs of US$ 70,000. The court's interpretation could lead public personalities questioned by the media and journalists to sue for the use of their image for profit.

Three criminal cases and two civil lawsuits are still open against the digital media Foco, for which penalties of US$ 746,000 are sought. In the process filed by former President Martinelli for alleged damages for slander and libel, the seizure of US$ 4,500 is maintained.

The judicial seizure order for US$ 121,000 against radio journalist Ronald Acosta, who was sued by the pro-government congressman Benicio Robinson, is maintained. The conviction confirmed in 2019 by the CSJ for U$S 32,000 against journalist Linett Lynch for a publication on alleged corruption in a court of justice is also maintained.

A criminal conviction in the first instance against commentator Eduardo Narváez, for five years, for the crime of gender violence against former Attorney General of the Nation Kenia Porcell for alleged psychological injuries has generated uncertainty about the precedent that the judicial interpretation could establish. Porcell sued Narváez after publications made in January 2019 on Instagram, in which images of a Russian model resembling the former attorney general appeared.

Several media continue to denounce the discretionary distribution of official advertising by the central government and several autonomous state institutions. Independent congressman Gabriel Silva presented a bill to regulate government spending on advertising in September to make it "more transparent, efficient and equitable." Neither this bill nor another given by the same deputy to establish protections against judicial and procedural harassment against the media has seen progress.

In the Government, Justice, and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the National Assembly, a draft bill presented by citizen participation allegedly "protects freedom of the press." This document does not emanate from nor has it been consulted with journalistic organizations/unions or the media. The bill establishes the definition of "journalist" and the "protection of privacy and the rights of individuals by journalists." In the same legislative committee, on October 25, a reform without consultation to Law 22 of 2005 regulating the right to reply was approved in the first debate to make explicit the application of such obligation to digital media.

The fines imposed by Antai against Corprensa -for publishing a photograph of a congressman without his authorization- and against the digital media -for posting information in a public document- were appealed and are suspended. Antai considers that the Personal Data Protection Law was violated. The National Bar Association and the National Association of Journalists (Conape), with the support of the National Council of Journalism (CNP) and the Forum of Journalists, presented a reform proposal to address the gaps in the current law. The bill establishes protections for journalism and the use of public documents, data, or information of public interest.

A criminal conviction against five persons, among them former President Martinelli, in the New Business case, regarding the acquisition of the Epasa group, publisher of the newspapers Panamá América, Crítica, and Día a Día, by its current owners, was confirmed in the second instance. The courts ordered the seizure of Epasa's shares in favor of the State "to guarantee the compensation of the State as a result of the violation of the Panamanian financial system and as a direct consequence of the execution of the crime of money laundering." The convicted parties may still appeal the sentence before the Supreme Court of Justice. The journalistic unions warned that if the conviction is confirmed, the State will take control of three media outlets. It has been recommended to the government that the media remain in the hands of third parties.