Freedom of the Press 2010 - Panama
|Publication Date||30 September 2010|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2010 - Panama, 30 September 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ca44d8628.html [accessed 12 March 2014]|
Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 17
Political Environment: 18
Economic Environment: 9
Total Score: 44
|Total Score, Status||44,PF||43,PF||43,PF||44,PF||44,PF|
Freedom of the press is protected by law, with some exceptions. The law allows the prosecution of journalists for vague charges related to exposing private information, and sets serious penalties for leaking government information to the press.
Although there has been discussion about repeal, journalists are still subject to desacato (disrespect) laws that are meant to protect government officials from public criticism. In September 2009, Rafael Berrocal of La Prensa, the country's leading newspaper, was convicted of calumny and libel against a former vice president who died in 2006. Berrocal faced 200 days in prison or a US$400 fine; his appeal was pending at year's end.
In February, Jean Marcel Chery and two colleagues with the daily El Siglo were sentenced to two years in prison and a fine for illegally entering the home of Supreme Court Justice Winston Spadafora in 2001.
Despite the existence of transparency legislation, access to public information remains limited. The government is centralizing official communications in the State Communication Ministry, which restricts media access to official sources.
Government officials, including President Ricardo Martinelli, are critical of the media and journalists. Government and Justice Minister Jose Raul Mulino and Attorney General Ana Matilde Gomez have repeatedly rebuked coverage of certain issues, such as crime, and advocated for greater regulation of the press. According to the Inter-American Press Association, former president Ernesto Perez-Balladares publicly threatened La Prensa editor Fernando Berguido and journalists Santiago Fascetto and Monica Palm over the publication of articles on concessions to his family members and associates for the operation of casinos.
The risk of legal repercussions and judicial intimidation have encouraged self-censorship among Panamanian journalists.
No physical attacks on the media were reported in 2009. Journalists in Panama remain fairly safe compared with colleagues in other countries in the region.
All Panamanian media outlets are privately owned, with the exception of one state-owned television network and one radio station. Media cross-ownership is prohibited.
The government reportedly attempts to manipulate news coverage by buying advertising space only from friendly media outlets.
There are no government restrictions on the internet, which is accessed by nearly 28 percent of the population.