Report - Mid-Year Meeting April 17 - 19, 2024


During this period, several incidents of attacks and intimidation against journalists and media outlets by police were recorded during a series of protests over a mining concession at the end of 2023. The most severe incident was that of independent photojournalist Aubrey Baxter, who lost his right eye due to shots fired by the National Police. Other journalists were hit by tear gas and pellets.

In other incidents, several protesters threw paint at a TVN Media cameraman and insulted a journalist from Medcom because of her past as a former government official. On other occasions, some protesters at different points in the country prevented journalists from covering the events.

The Single National Union of Construction and Similar Industry Workers (SUNTRACS) held marches in which banners were carried against the "information mercenaries." It blocked entry and exit access to the Medcom facilities, which transmit the RPC, Telemetro channels, and several radio stations.

On February 26, outside the building where the first presidential debate was taking place, cameraman Franklin Mora and journalist Yenny Caballero, both from TVN Media, were attacked by members of SUNTRACS and followers of presidential candidate Maribel Gordón.

The Electoral Tribunal (TE) issued decree 7 in January, which listed 20 behaviors punishable by prison for affecting the "integrity of the electoral process." Although several of the behaviors are defined and specific, others refer to "fake news," "false stories," "misleading information," and "false or misleading content" without precisely defining what would be considered false or misleading content.

The National Directorate of Electoral Organization (DNOE) of the TE sanctioned the digital media Foco for a complaint filed by former president Ricardo Martinelli. According to Martinelli, the press published electoral propaganda. At the end of last year, the DNOE process was modified so that a defendant could declare under oath whether he had received payments to publish before ordering the suspension of the content. However, Focus did not declare. Another case against journalist Álvaro Alvarado was filed after his sworn statement.

Several media outlets continue to denounce the discretionary distribution of official advertising by the central government and autonomous state institutions.

In the Government, Justice, and Constitutional Affairs Commission of Congress, three draft bills concern freedom of the press and expression, all of which have yet to be debated. With possible positive effects, the project is to regulate state spending on advertising to make it "more transparent, efficient and equitable." Treatment is also expected on a project to establish protections against judicial and procedural harassment. The independent deputy Gabriel Silva presented the two.

In the judicial sphere, there were negative advances in press freedom. A court confirmed in the second instance the sentence against commentator Eduardo Narváez to five years for the crime of gender violence to the detriment of the former attorney general of the Nation, Kenia Porcell, for alleged psychological injuries. Porcell sued Narváez after January 2019 posts on Instagram in which images of a Russian model physically similar to the former attorney appeared. The parties may appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ).

A court revoked in the second instance the ruling in favor of Corporación La Prensa (Corprensa) in the civil lawsuit for alleged damages of US$5.5 million filed by former president Ernesto Pérez Balladares in 2012. The court condemned Corprensa to pay $5,000 in moral damages. The first instance ruling was described as an important precedent because it used the principle of actual malice to forgive the media. The case is on appeal before the CSJ.

On the other hand, the CSJ did not admit an appeal to appeal the sentence against Corprensa that ordered it to pay US$ 3,000 in moral damages after a civil lawsuit for alleged damages for US$ 1 million presented by the former first lady Marta Linares de Martinelli for a 2016 news story whose English translation contained an error that did not appear in the original Spanish text. The translation indicated that Linares had been charged when the correct thing was that her electoral immunity had been lifted.

SOUNDTRACKS filed a criminal complaint against the newspaper La Estrella de Panamá and two of its journalists for alleged damage to honor and economic security. The complaint was motivated by the publication of a news item in which the closure of the union's bank accounts by the state bank Caja de Ahorros was reported.

The Supreme Court upheld a civil judgment against Geo Media, publisher of the newspapers La Estrella de Panamá and El Siglo, ordering them to pay $24,735 in a lawsuit for $400,000 filed by Nelsón Carreyó for alleged damages caused by the publication of two notes in 2012. At that time, Carreyó was seeking public office.

A conviction for US$505,000 against Corprensa is still under appeal in the CSJ in a case of alleged image rights violation in the publication of a collectible album, a free insert within the newspaper, with biographical content of the boxer Roberto "Mano de Piedra" Durán. 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 figures questioned by the media and journalists to sue for the use of their image.

Corprensa faces 15 civil lawsuits: seven in the first instance that seeks up to US$4.2 million; four with rulings in favor in the first or second instance that sought US$33.5 million, but in which it has been ordered to pay US$817,000 in favor of the media; and four rulings against in which US$817,000 were sought. 12 million, but the media has been ordered to pay US$566,476.

The digital media Foco has two criminal cases, and two civil lawsuits open for US$746,000. 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 kidnapping order for US$ 121,000 continues against the radio journalist Ronald Acosta, who was sued by the pro-government deputy Benicio Robinson. The conviction confirmed in 2019 by the CSJ for US$32,000 against the journalist Linett Lynch for a publication about acts of alleged corruption in a court is also maintained.

Antai ratified in administrative processes the fines imposed against Corprensa for publishing a photograph of a deputy without authorization and against the digital media la for publishing information in a public document. Both media outlets appealed the decision. 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 Journalists Forum, presented a reform proposal in October 2022 that has not yet been accepted to address the gaps that the current law has. The reform project establishes protections for journalism and the use of public documents, data, or information of public interest.

The conviction of the New Business case, regarding the acquisition of Editora Panamá América, S.A. (EPASA), former editor of the newspapers Panamá América, La Crítica and Día a Día, was confirmed by the CSJ on February 22. It was executed on March 4. For this case, Martinelli was sentenced to 10 years and eight months in prison and paid a fine of US$19.2 million. The sentence includes the confiscation of EPASA shares in favor of the State. The newspaper brands were transferred in February 2020 to another company controlled by Martinelli. Until now, the media continues to publish with editorial freedom.

The Latin American Parliament (Parlatino), based in Panama, has yet to reject the project presented in 2017 by Ecuadorian assemblyman Octavio Villacreces on a Communications Framework Law that establishes control mechanisms by the State over media content.